Reform is about political power and fairness, does not affect funding
by Peter Wagner, February 7, 2010
A state-wide campaign is underway to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York State. Unfortunately, a misinformation campaign threatens those efforts. Today, the Elmira Star-Gazette in upstate New York printed
my letter to the editor:
Mayor Tonello is concerned that a bill to change how prisoners are counted for redistricting purposes would hurt Elmira’s budget. [" Officials: Changing how census counts inmates would hurt region", February 1] This concern is misplaced.
The bill under consideration, S6725, would adjust federal census data for redistricting purposes. It would not apply to any federal or state funding program. All it would do is ensure that the data used for redistricting by the state and in each county complies with the New York State Constitution’s definition of residence which declares that people in prison remain residents of their pre-incarceration addresses.
Ironically, the proposed bill would put New York State’s practice in line with that of Chemung County. Rather than draw a county legislative district that was 30% prisoners — and give residents near the prison more influence over county affairs — Chemung County decided to adjust the Census, ignore the prison population, and draw fair county districts.
Like the proposed bill in the Senate, Chemung’s decision to draw fair districts without the prison population had no effect on federal or state funding. But it was a very good thing for democracy.
Executive Director, Prison Policy Initiative