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Utica paper: Don’t count prisoners as constituents

by Peter Wagner, January 7, 2010  

Utica Observer-Dispatch (Utica, NY)
Jan 7, 2010

AT ISSUE: Using inmates to determine county’s legislative districts is wrong.

It is simply inane that the 6,000-plus prison inmates at Oneida County’s four prisons are factored into population totals for county legislative districts.

County legislators have the power to raise county taxes and approve local laws on issues such as texting while driving. Yet absolutely none of their actions apply to state prisoners incarcerated at Marcy, Mid-State, Mohawk and Oneida correctional facilities.

Prisoners don’t pay local property taxes. They don’t drive on county roads. They don’t vote, or attend county meetings, or advocate for or against local issues. The vast majority of them are not even from our region.

So assigning them to legislative districts makes absolutely no sense. In essence, as a group called the Prison Policy Initiative points out, nonprisoners in county legislative districts in Marcy and in Rome, where the prisons are located, have a greater weight on county matters than do residents elsewhere.

A principle of our democracy is “one man, one vote.” But since prisoners are local citizens in name only, the remaining people in those legislative districts technically have somewhat more of a say than “one man, one vote.”

The U.S. Census Bureau has good reason to count prisoners where they are incarcerated.

Those prisoners do need some local services, particularly medical services. But localities need to avoid taking that census count as direction for drawing legislative district lines.

Oneida County should take two steps:

1. Stop counting prisoners as county constituents for the purposes of determining legislative districts. More than a dozen counties around the state have already done so, including quite a few where prisons exist, including Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties in Northern New York.

2. Cut the number of legislative districts. Oneida County, a place with fewer residents now than 20 years ago, hardly needs 29 legislators to conduct the county’s business, especially because many county residents would be hard pressed to name their own legislator. So in the act of ending the practice of counting state prisoners as county constituents, there is an opportunity to start trimming the number of legislative districts as well.

State prisons are among our region’s largest employers, and their presence is welcomed here.

But county government owes it to local voters to play it straight when it comes to defining who is really a constituent, and who is not.

The original editorial was accessed from: in January 2010.

One Response

  1. Utica NY paper calls on Sen Griffo & Assemblywoman Destito to oppose prison-based gerrymandering | Prisoners of the Census says, 1 year, 6 months after publication:

    [...] Our view: Don’t count prisoners as constituents, editorial, January 6, 2010 [...]

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