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Prison gerrymandering gives extra political power to legislators who have prisons in their districts. We put numbers on the problem and sparked a movement to protect our democratic process from the overgrown prison system.

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Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Partisan prison gerrymandering

by Peter Wagner, February 7, 2011

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise prints my letter to the editor Partisan prison gerrymandering:

To the editor:

I was disappointed to see that Senator Little wants to sue the state legislature to stop enactment of the prison-based gerrymandering law so that her district can claim prisoners as constituents. (“Little may challenge prisoner count law,” Feb. 1, 2011)

Part of me wonders if she is also thinking of suing her constituents in the Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Washington County governments for their past practice of refusing to use the prison populations when drawing local districts and weighting votes in the board of supervisors. Essex County even passed a local law in 2003 that said using the prison counts “unfairly dilutes the votes or voting weight of persons residing in other towns within Essex County.” Her constituents have been clear that prison-based gerrymandering is unacceptable.

But mostly I’m just sad to watch both parties in New York turn prison-based gerrymandering into a partisan issue. It doesn’t have to be this way. In Maryland and Delaware, similar legislation passed with bipartisan, urban and rural support. In fact, the lead sponsors in the Maryland Senate, Maryland House and Delaware Senate all had massive prisons in their districts. In those states, fairness trumped self-interest. Only in New York is spending state funds to roll back the clock considered a good idea.

Peter Wagner
Executive director
Prison Policy Initiative
Easthampton, Mass.

P.S.: The writer is the author of “Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in New York.”

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