In 2010 New York State enacted legislation to end prison gerrymandering. It was one of more than a dozen states that counted incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes in the 2020 redistricting cycle.
Animation by Adell Donaghue Design
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 voice of people in those districts at the expense of all districts that do not contain a prison.
The new law uses 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 law does not change the core Census data, no federal funding based on Census data is affected. The bill ensures that state senate, state assembly, county and municipal redistricting in the state is not undermined by prison gerrymandering.
The law puts 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.
July 2012 update: Some legislators with large prisons in their districts unsuccessfully sued to bring back prison-based gerrymandering. For more on the lawsuit, please see our Little v. LATFOR page.
New York passed a law to collect the home addresses of incarcerated people, and to require the state and county governments to draw legislature districts on the basis of Census Bureau data corrected to count incarcerated people at their home addresses. The bill to end prison-based gerrymandering was attached as part XX of the revenue budget (A9710D/S6610C) and had a technical amendment, A11597/S8415. The Bill and the amendment passed the Assembly on July 1, and the Senate on August 3, and signed into law by the Governor on August 12, 2010.
See the statements upon passage from the Prison Policy Initiative and Demos, New York's Coalition to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering, NYCLU and Common Cause NY, and the NAACP LDF and Brennan Center for Justice.
It’s impossible to include everyone who contributed to abolishing prison gerrymandering in New York, but if you are looking to get involved, these are some of the people and organizations you might want to contact:
In new Census, home is where the vote should be Times Herald-Record, Editorial, February 19, 2010 (Orange County, NY):
"... a politician should be embarrassed to claim that people held in prisons should count as constituents."
Legislation would stop 'prison-based gerrymandering', Syracuse Post-Standard Editorial, February 24, 2010 (Cayuga County):
"We think the proposal deserves quick passage as the state prepares to redraw all the Senate and Assembly districts in 2012."
Don't count prisoners with voters, Utica Observer-Dispatch Editorial, February 26, 2010 (Oneida County, NY):
"Wagner says there are two bills pending in the state Assembly and Senate that would require the state to distribute adjusted counts for county use in redistricting. It would make sense for Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, and Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito, D-Rome, to get behind such legislation."