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Reaction to PA redistricting committee decision to count inmates in home counties splits along party lines

A prison gate with a sign, fencing and barbed wire.
Min Xian
A file photo of the State Correctional Institution at Rockview. As part of the legislative redistricting process, Pennsylvania inmates had been counted in the districts where they were incarcerated. Under a new method, the inmates who are Pennsylvania residents but not serving life sentences, will be counted in their home districts.

Reactions from county leaders to a recent decision by the commission in charge of redrawing Pennsylvania’s state legislative districts to count prison inmates in their home districts, not where they’re incarcerated, are divided along partisan lines.

Michael Pipe, chairman of the Centre County Commissioners, said the state needs to have correctional institutions.

“There have to be places where individuals serve sentences for crimes against victims and the state," Pipe said. "But there needs to be a recognition that the individuals, when they leave, they should be able to have their representation reflect where they are returning to.”

Pipe, who is a Democrat, supports the commission’s decision, which he said is in line with criminal justice reform.

There are two state prisons in Centre County with a total of about 3,300 inmates. The commission’s move means it will count those inmates where they’re from when it’s drawing maps for state House and Senate seats.

A map showing Pennsylvania's state correctional institutions
Pennsylvania's 23 state correctional institutions and boot camp.

Neighboring Huntingdon County has two state prisons; Forest County has one; and Clearfield County has a state prison, along with a boot camp.

Mark Sather, chairman of the Huntingdon County Commissioners and a Republican, said the five-member panel made a decision that should have been up to the legislature.

“I would like to go back to the fundamentals and say a committee is to make recommendations, not to be the exclusive authority,” Sather said.

Supporters of the change say counting inmates where they’re incarcerated “artificially inflates” the population — and political power — of those districts. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission approved the resolution in a 3-2 vote, with Chairman Mark Nordenberg siding with the two Democrats.

Pipe said he hopes the change will also interest people in the redistricting process.

Inmates serving life sentences will still be counted where they’re in prison.

Anne Danahy is a reporter at WPSU. She was a reporter for nearly 12 years at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, where she earned a number of awards for her coverage of issues including the impact of natural gas development on communities.
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