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Franklin County, NY resident sets the record straight on prison count issue

by Leah Sakala, December 14, 2011  

In a compelling letter to the editor, Franklin County resident Dan Jenkins clarifies misinformation printed in a recent Plattsburgh Press Republican editorial about New York’s law that ended prison-based gerrymandering:

TO THE EDITOR: The Press-Republican editorial “Inequity must be addressed” of Nov. 29 is a fascinating mix of misinformation.

The manner in which the prison population of New York state will be counted for state and local redistricting is an important public topic. So it is important for the public to be provided with clear and accurate information.

First of all, the editorial incorrectly refers to “congressional” redistricting. The new state law that counts inmates at their homes of record will have absolutely no effect on the realignment of federal congressional district boundaries because those are based on federal census figures, period.

Secondly, the editorial claims that “20,000 inmates in New York’s prisons have no known home addresses.” This unattributed figure was disputed by Peter Cutler, spokesman for the State Department of Correctional Services, as quoted by Joseph Spector, Gannet News Service, in an article published about 10 days ago.

And finally, the editorial seems to suggest that even our counties should include the number of inmates found in state and federal prisons when drawing up local legislative districts or when calculating weighted votes.

Clinton, Franklin and Essex counties have, very properly, decided that prison populations should be deducted from census figures for purposes of local reapportionment. Otherwise, the concentration of inmates in places like Dannemora and Malone can force the creation of county districts with very few actual voters, and this bizarre result will fail to survive a legal challenge in the courts.

If the Press-Republican truly advocates that Clinton, Franklin and Essex counties all reverse course and include prisoner counts for purposes of local reapportionment, then you should make that clear.

Compliments to the Press-Republican for bringing public attention to this issue.

Daniel Jenkins, Tupper Lake

[After the letter was written, but before it was printed, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled to uphold the law ending prison-based gerrymandering, ensuring that incarcerated people in New York will be reallocated to their home addresses for redistricting purposes.]