New York to correct miscount of incarcerated people

New law caps decade-long effort to improve fairness and accuracy of data used for state and local redistricting.

August 3, 2010

New law caps decade-long effort to improve fairness and accuracy of data used for state and local redistricting

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initiative, (413) 527-0845, (413) 923-8478
Tim Rusch, Demos, 212 389-1407
Brenda Wright, Demos, 617 913-1967

August 3, 2010 – Today, the New York State Senate passed legislation ensuring that incarcerated persons will be counted as residents of their home communities when state and local legislative districts are redrawn in New York next year. The measure, already passed by the Assembly, was included in the budget package that now awaits Governor Paterson’s signature.

The state legislature and some counties and municipalities have previously counted incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, inflating the local population counts used for legislative districts. Padding legislative districts with prison populations artificially enhances the weight of a vote cast in those districts at the expense of all districts that do not contain a prison.

The bill now on Governor Paterson’s desk would use data from the department of corrections to identify the home addresses of incarcerated persons and include them in the population counts for those areas prior to redistricting. Because the bill does not change the core Census data, no federal funding based on Census data would be affected. The bill will affect state senate, state assembly, county and municipal districting in the state that will begin in 2011.

The law will put all state and local districting in New York in line with the practice of 13 rural New York counties with large prisons that conduct their own adjustments to census data to avoid prison-based gerrymandering. Maryland enacted a similar law earlier this year, and in Delaware a bill has passed both houses and awaits the Governor’s signature.

New York State has joined Maryland and Delaware in passing legislation to correct a serious deficiency in the way incarcerated people have been counted. These states are ensuring that state, county, and municipal districts will be drawn fairly, and they are sending a powerful message to the Census Bureau that counting incarcerated people as residents of the correctional facility needs to change,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

The new law will help New York correct past distortions in representation caused by counting incarcerated persons as residents of prisons, such as the following:

  • Seven of the current New York State Senate districts meet minimum population requirements only by claiming incarcerated people as residents
  • Forty percent of an Oneida County legislative district is incarcerated, and 50 percent of a Rome City Council ward is incarcerated, giving the people who live next to the prisons more influence than people in other districts or wards.

The problem of prison-based gerrymandering is national. Maryland had one state legislative district where 18 percent of the “constituents” were actually people in prisons, and Texas has two state house districts that are 12 percent incarcerated. Prison-based gerrymandering was not a serious problem when the prison population was tiny, but the 2010 Census will find five times as many people in prison as it did just three decades ago.

“Prison-based gerrymandering is wrong because incarcerated persons do not make their ‘home’ in the prison town in any meaningful sense; they are not permitted to interact with the prison town and they almost always return to their pre-incarceration community upon completion of sentence, on average within 34 months. New York’s decision to count incarcerated people at home for districting purposes will at last bring the state’s redistricting practices in line with the New York Constitution’s declaration that a prison is not a residence,” said Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos.

The Prison Policy Initiative and Demos have a national project to end prison-based gerrymandering, advocating for the Census Bureau and state and local governments to count incarcerated persons at their home residences. In 2002, the Prison Policy Initiative published an analysis of prison-based gerrymandering in New York. In 2005, the Second Circuit drew attention to the potential for unlawful vote dilution created by the practice, relying on an amicus brief filed by Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative. That same year, Senator Schneiderman proposed the first bill in New York to count incarcerated people at home.

While it is too late for the Census Bureau to alter its count of incarcerated individuals for the 2010 Census, the Bureau recently announced the accelerated release of national prison count data. Those figures will more readily allow states to adjust their prisoner counts in time for state and local redistricting efforts in 2011. And the reforms passed in New York, Maryland, and Delaware, as well as the over 100 counties nationwide that already remove prison populations from their population counts for redistricting purposes, should help build momentum for the Census Bureau to alter its count on a nationwide basis prior to the next decennial census.

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36 Responses

  1. kennjohn says:

    Great news!

    Great work!

  2. New York State and Prisoners of the Census: Democracy on the March!…

    Summary:  New York is the most recent state to enact new rules about how people in prison are counted in the U.S. Census. As the votes of no confidence continue, the Census may need to change its practice. New York is the most recent state to pass…

  3. […] Census. The law passed on Tuesday evening provides that for purposes of political redistricting, incarcerated persons count as residents of their places of residence prior to incarceration, not as residents at their place of […]

  4. […] From the Prisoners of the Census blog: The new law will help New York correct past distortions in representation caused by counting incarcerated persons as residents of prisons, such as the following: […]

  5. This is a terrific win, we are so thankful for your hard work, thank you. Finally, justice for those incarcerated who have had not enough of a voice.

  6. New York Votes to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering | Pursuances says:

    […] It’s not just that the Empire State is the largest state to have taken decisive action so far, or that New York has traditionally been a trend-setter on a number of policy issues. According to the Prison Policy Institute: […]

  7. Jeannie Vink says:

    This is a great win! However, will this also affect residential drug treatment facilities that also have their clients fill out Census forms that they are residents of that particular area? Thank you.

  8. Peter Wagner says:

    Jeannie, Counts of people at drug treatment facilities are operated by the Department of Correctional Services would be affected, otherwise, no.

  9. Sam Pratt says:

    When are the State’s expedited tallies expected? And what is the deadline for municipalities and counties to begin implementation? Do all districts (ward, county, State, Federal) have to coordinate their changes, or can they happen in stages?

  10. Peter Wagner says:

    @Sam,

    In New York, districting at different levels of government all happen separately, on their own schedules. I’m not familiar with there being any hard deadlines in NY state or local laws, but some localities may. Generally, the deadline is to have have the districts in place for the first primaries to be held in the new districts, and the weighted voting systems in place for the first meeting. But as those vary, the answer to your question can vary.

    Last decade, the state finished the state and congressional districts in April and May 2002. I know of one county that their districts in mid 2001, a few in 2002, and a number of them in early 2003.

    I’m not sure when the state’s numbers will be available. I’d guess late in 2011. The Legislative Taskforce on Reapportionment and Redistricting (LATFOR) may know when they expect to have this available.

  11. […] on non-partisan redistricting.  They continue to focus on the Democratic bill passed in august to change the way prisoners are counted for redistricting purposes.  Senator Nozzolio now claims that the bill is unconstitutional.  This […]

  12. Here are three very short animated videos on NYS redistricting

    first video http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/11814791/

    second video http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/11850650/

    third video http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/11884531/

  13. […] reflects a national trend towards correcting the miscount of incarcerated persons in redistricting. New York, Maryland and Delaware all passed legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering last […]

  14. […] district, which includes several large prisons. Senator Nozzolio has a long history of opposing the New York bill that ended prison-based gerrymandering, insisting that the people incarcerated within his district […]

  15. […] I, along with UMass PhD candidate Stephen Healy and Smith College student Sarah Kowalaski, founded the Prison Policy Initiative ten years ago, building a platform to transition my academic paper into a policy paper. Six months later, I was testifying before the New York State legislature telling them about prison-based gerrymandering and urging them to start the redistricting process over with better data that met the state’s constitutional definition of residence. The legislature ignored me at the time, but nine years later, the legislature took our advice. […]

  16. […] this case, several New York legislators are suing to overturn New York’s 2010 law that ended prison-based gerrymandering. 15 New York voters entered in the suit as […]

  17. […] district, which includes several large prisons. Senator Nozzolio has a long history of opposing the New York bill that ended prison-based gerrymandering, insisting that the people incarcerated within his district […]

  18. […] The Prison Policy Initiative and friends celebrated the end of prison-based gerrymandering in New York at a wonderful reception on October 11 in New York City. At the event, PPI presented awards to Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries and VOCAL New York, honoring them for their outstanding leadership in this momentous civil rights victory. […]

  19. […] have had enough of the legislature’s stalling to fully implement last year’s law that ended prison-based gerrymandering in New York. Last week, six New York voters filed a lawsuit against the state for failing to move […]

  20. […] avoided prison-based gerrymandering like Supervisor Maneely’s county did. That’s why the law passed last year that ended prison-based gerrymandering also amended the Municipal Home Rule Law to require county […]

  21. […] reviewing recent coverage of New York’s implementation of the 2010 law that ended prison-based gerrymandering, I was struck by how often partisan interests misrepresent a […]

  22. […] and ensure fair representation for all of its residents. In the past year, Maryland, Delaware, and New York have all passed bills outlawing prison-based gerrymandering; similar bills are under consideration […]

  23. […] states passed legislation ending prison-based gerrymandering within their borders. The Maryland and New York laws are already in effect and have been upheld by the courts. We’re also making systemic […]

  24. […] states passed legislation ending prison-based gerrymandering within their borders. The Maryland and New York laws are already in effect and have been upheld by the courts. We’re also making systemic […]

  25. […] define residence for incarcerated people. Or, Kansas could pass a law like those in Maryland, New York, Delaware and California that performs a state-based adjustment to the redistricting data. But […]

  26. […] districts clears the path for other states to pass similar laws at all levels of government.” New York, Delaware and California have already enacted similar legislation, and advocates are calling on the […]

  27. […] legislature to pass a bill ending prison-based gerrymandering like the ones in Maryland, New York, Delaware, and California. But now, the Massachusetts legislature has the time to take concrete […]

  28. […] the early release of the prison count data was essential to the implementation of Maryland and New York‘s laws that counted incarcerated people at home. And at that meeting, I shared that I knew of […]

  29. […] Or maybe the North Carolina General Assembly will pass legislation – like Maryland and New York, have – mandating that state and local governments draw election districts based on their […]

  30. […] that would need to be revised before the state could implement a legislative solution as New York or Maryland have done. As the resolution observes, …the simplest solution to the conflict […]

  31. […] next reapportionment cycle (much like the bills that were passed and successfully implemented in New York and […]

  32. […] Courant and the Norwich Bulletin have called on the legislature to pass legislation like that in New York, Maryland, Delaware, and California to ensure that the Census Bureau’s method of tabulating […]

  33. […] other states — New York, Maryland, Delaware, and California — have already passed similar legislation, and Maryland’s […]

  34. […] closed, depriving Ward 2 of even some of its phantom constituents.) But, in 2010, New York State passed a law (Part XX of Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2010) requiring cities like Rome to either exclude the […]

  35. […] Utica Observer-Dispatch published a strong editorial calling on the City of Rome to comply with the New York law banning prison gerrymandering by updating its city council lines: Our view: Free prisoners — from voting […]

  36. […] requirement that every voter have a right to equal say in government affairs. Thanks to a 2010 historic voting rights law that outlawed prison gerrymandering in New York, this time the county’s reapportionment […]



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