The Legislative Reapportionment Commission went back on its policy to reallocate state prisoners at their last-known residence for legislative reapportionment, voting Tuesday to allow only those set to be released before the 2030 census to be counted in their home districts for redistricting. 

The 3-2 decision was made along party lines, with commission Chair Mark Nordenberg siding with the Republican commissioners just a month after voting with Democrats for the original reallocation resolution. This latest policy, Resolution 5A, reverses part of what advocates said was the first step in addressing prison gerrymandering. 

Nordenberg, former University of Pittsburgh chancellor, said he found Resolution 4A to be “thoughtful” and “pioneering,” but that he didn’t consider the resolution or proposal process to be “ideal.”

When concluding his decision on Resolution 5A, he asked, “Is it reasonable, thoughtful, and is it advanced for what I would consider to be appropriate reasons? My answer to that question is yes.” 

Resolution 4A, introduced by Democratic state Rep. Joanna McClinton, required the reallocation of all prisoners with last-known addresses in the commonwealth other than those serving life sentences. Resolution 5A took that exception a step further, issuing that incarcerated individuals serving minimum sentences longer than the next census cycle shouldn’t be reallocated either.

State Sen. Kim Ward, the sponsor of Resolution 5A, said this newly introduced resolution took into consideration the commission’s discussions from their last meeting. 

“I still believe reallocating prisoners is a flawed concept. However, this commission has a lot of difficult work ahead of us,” Ward said. “One of our next major tasks will be certifying the data, which will officially kick off our timeline under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Therefore, I would like to find an agreeable way for us to move forward, and I believe limiting the scope of prisoner reallocation to only those inmates returning home in the next 10 years is a common-sense compromise.” 

The new resolution specifically states that the state should count any incarcerated person in a state correctional facility who was a resident of the commonwealth immediately prior to being sentenced to prison, as long as their sentence is slated to end before April 1, 2030.

McClinton said the rationale for supporting the passage of Resolution 4A is as compelling today as it was when it was adopted. She argued that prison sentences can often be appealed and reduced and that the newly drawn maps will be in effect until at least 2032, not just until 2030. 

“The restyled Resolution 5A fails to account for the numerous ways criminal sentences are reduced every day, including direct appeals, petitions under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act, federal habeas corpus petitions, clemencies, and pardon applicants, all of which occur day-to-day and may lessen or entirely aggregate a sentence of incarceration,” McClinton added. “The population that Resolution 5A proposes to carve out of Resolution 4A does not correspond to the time period during which this year’s maps will continue to be used.” 

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission’s August meeting also led to the approval of Resolution 4B, which provided for the Legislative Data Center to submit two population datasets to the commission, including one on the basis of residence of incarcerated individuals. The adoption of Resolution 5A will not have an effect on the release of the data.