New York City Council considers resolutions to end prison-based gerrymandering

The New York City Council holds a hearing on prison-based gerrymandering, supporting change at the Census Bureau and in Albany.

by Peter Wagner, November 20, 2009

Yesterday, the New York City Council held a hearing on two prison-based gerrymandering resolutions. One, put forth by member Larry Seabrook calls on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses rather than at the prisons in future Censuses. The second one, introduced by member Robert Jackson and 11 co-sponsors could influence the 2012 round of redistricting after this Census, as it calls upon the New York State legislature to pass bills S1633 and A5946 which would require that state and county legislative districts be drawn on adjusted data counting incarcerated people at their home addresses.

The joint Committees on Civil Rights and on Immigration took testimony on the resolutions and will vote on these resolutions in the near future. Testimony was submitted by State Senator Eric Schneiderman, Sean Barry of New York City AIDS Housing Network, and Susan Lerner of Common Cause/New York.

It is too late to change where the Census Bureau is going to count incarcerated people in 2010. However, the City Council is pointing to an important interim solution that will restore fairness to redistricting, and is calling for the Census Bureau to change its counting method in the future.

Many rural counties in New York have already rejected the Census Bureau’s prison counts for their own legislative districts and supervisory boards. Essex County’s apportionment plan included an explanation of why they adjusted the data, and the chair of the Franklin County legislature told North Country Public Radio that adjusting the Census data was a “no-brainer“.

Bills S1633 and A5946 would eliminate the data adjustment burden on individual counties and mandate one fair source of data for redistricting both state and county legislative districts. Now is an excellent time for local officials of all types to ask the legislature for better data on which to base their districts.

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