A portrait of Peter Wagner.
Peter Wagner
Executive Director
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—Peter Wagner
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Glenn Martin says New York should demand Census reform

by Peter Wagner, February 9, 2010  

Glenn Martin has a great letter to the editor in last week’s Albany Times Union (February 5, 2010):

Don’t Politicize The Census

While sparsely populated upstate needs all the legislative representation it can muster, this representation must not come at the expense of destitute urban communities whose problems already stem from a disproportionate lack of resources and advocacy.

Census guidelines allow upstate prison communities to count nonvoting inmates as residents in order to increase legislative representation, while the prisoners’ underserved hometown communities lose out (“Inmate census rule criticized,” Jan. 29).

State parole laws dictate that upon release, prisoners must return to the county of their conviction — which is usually the county of their last known address. By this logic, inmates should be counted as residents of that county throughout incarceration, even if their prison is located upstate.

Supporters of the current guidelines claim that prison towns pay the living expenses of prisoners, and therefore are entitled to claim them as constituents.

The truth is that all state taxpayers foot the bill, and families of the incarcerated actually pay all prison expenses not covered by the state.

Furthermore, the prisons actually generate income for their communities: the residents of whole towns are employed by prisons, and local business benefit from visitors, who sleep and eat at local hotels and restaurants. These communities also benefit from free inmate labor.

It’s time New York demanded the census do what it was intended to do: Count the populations of its real communities, not tamper with its political scales.

Vice President of Development and Public Affairs, The Fortune Society
David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy
Long Island City

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