News Coverage on Redistricting Prisoners

The Journal News: Politics on the Hudson

About 20,000 Prisoners May Go Uncounted In Redistricting

Joseph Spector
Friday, November 18, 2011

A state law that requires prisoners to be counted in their hometowns when New York draws up new legislative district lines is having an unintended consequence: about one third of the state’s prisoners may not be counted.

Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, said today that there’s no known last address for about 20,000 prisoners in New York. Either they were homeless, lived out of state or their addresses were incomplete and can’t be mapped to be included in the population count for new district lines, he said.

“About 20,000 just aren’t getting counted at all,” McEneny, who is co-chair of the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, which is drawing the new legislative maps in time for the 2012 elections.

The committee received names of about 58,000 prisoners from the state corrections department, McEneny said. If there’s no known last address, state law doesn’t allow them to be counted at all.

The discrepancy is the result of a law adopted last year when Democrats controlled the Legislature that switched prisoners from being counted in the places where they are incarcerated to their hometowns. Proponents said the previous law unfairly inflated the population of some districts with state prisoners who can’t even vote.

Prisoners are still counted in their places of incarceration for the U.S. Census, but the redistricting committee is coming out with its own figures on the prisoners’ hometowns.

The change could influence the size and clout of some upstate districts, particularly those held by Republicans in rural areas: In the 2002 redistricting process, seven state Senate districts, five of which were controlled by Republicans, wouldn’t have met minimum population requirements without including prisoners.

The state has about 58,000 inmates in 67 prisons.

Senate Republicans are suing to overturn last year’s law, but Sen. Michael Nozzolio, who co-chairs the redistricting panel, said the group would continue to count the prisoners in their hometowns unless the law is overturned. He expressed concern about computer software being used to count the prisoners, saying they should be using U.S. Census methods and not ones developed by the panel. He said that could be affecting the ability to locate some prisoners’ last addresses.

“I agree clearly in following the statute, but the process of how we get there is what’s in dispute,” Nozzolio said. “We believe it should be totally the United States Census process, not a process that is patched together.”

Press Clip Relevance

The New York State Constitution requires that all "inhabitants, excluding aliens" shall be counted.  Assemblyman Jack McEneny's assertion that the current law that provides for the counting of prisoners at their location prior to incarceration causes may cause the exclusion of 20,000 inhabitants from the redistricting process might mean the law is unconstitutional.



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