Morning Read: Inmate debate roils political map

Last week, David Sommerstein reported that Republican lawmakers — including state Sen. Betty Little – are suing to make sure prison inmates are counted where they are incarcerated, not where they’re from.

The dust-up was also raw material for Marquil’s latest political cartoon.  Now the Utica Observer Dispatch has an article illustrating just how significant this debate might be.

They point to the district of Oneida County legislator David Wood, where roughly one-third of his “constituents” are behind bars.

Views on this differ wildly.  Here’s what Sen. Joe Griffo, a Republican who took part in the lawsuit, told the newspaper:

“It’s not like [inmates] come here, and everything is self contained,” he said. “There’s a draw on resources and a cost to them being here.”

But Republican county legislator Edward Welsh, from Utica, sees it differently:

“Basically, I’m against gerrymandering prison populations for political use only,” he said. “I’m happy the prisoners are here and the jobs are here, but when everything is equal, prisoners should not be counted here.”

This lawsuit could significantly reshape state, county and perhaps even Federal political districts across the North Country.

So what do you think?  Tens of thousands of New York inmates — who can’t vote and don’t have any kind of regular access to “their” elected officials — are clearly pawns in a big political struggle.

Should they be?  Should they be tallied here or in the communities where they hail from?

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26 Responses to “Morning Read: Inmate debate roils political map”

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  1. Jim Bullard says:

    Count them half in each place.

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  2. Mervel says:

    They don’t live here, they don’t pay rent, they cannot take part in our school systems, they don’t pay taxes here. They are no more citizens of our county than our soldiers stationed in Afghanistan are citizens of Afghanistan.

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  3. Mervel says:

    In many ways it is a further injustice. The men incarcerated in our upstate prisons are disproportionately African American and Latino, they are disproportionately from segregated downstate communities. So not only do we take these men out of these communities but we further rob these communities by under-representation; for our own selfish political purposes. So we get to use their incarceration for both our jobs and our political benefit.

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  4. Walker says:

    The prisons really shouldn’t have been built here to begin with– it’s a hardship on their families, and it’s a classic case of NIMBY– the rich folk down state didn’t want the prisons in their back yard so they stuck them in ours. And then we get used to the jobs, and look what happens when prison populations decline.

    Anyway, I lean towards counting them in their home towns. It’s definitely a weird situation though– what about people who were residents of another state when they were busted in NY?

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  5. Peter Hahn says:

    They should be counted in their home districts. If they could vote, the upstate communities would insist that they vote in their home districts (but try to count them in the prison districts for the census and representation). Demographically, culturally, and every other category you can think of they belong in their home districts. It would be different if they were out and about and participating, but they are in a prison, that from their perspective could be anywhere. (but preferably closer to their home district).

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  6. Fred Goss says:

    I worked for the census last year and we counted people where they were on APril 1, 2010…not where they usually lived or where they might prefer to live etc. etc. Soldiers overseas were not counted at all.

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  7. Hank says:

    Brian:

    Where does the Census count persons who happen to be institutionalized in a long-term care facility or a hospital that is located outside their “home” district?
    Aren’t these cases analogous to prison inmates?

    I guess if the US had significantly fewer persons incarcerated in prisons this issue would largely go away. It never seems to have been an issue with the Census here in Canada, so far as I know.

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  8. Pete Klein says:

    First, I loved the cartoon.
    Second, why are tax payer dollars going to be waisted in a lawsuit to continue an injustice?
    To count them as half here and half someplace else reminds me of the nonsense that was supposed to end with the Civil War.

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  9. Pete Klein says:

    Sorry about the incorrect spelling. It should have been “wasted.”

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  10. Amaredelectare says:

    Existence of a corporate-run, propaganda-managed democracy could not be more evident with sectors of our population enjoying great privilege, while middle and lower classes of people sink farther into poverty and genuine misery. More and more become homeless while a superfluous population is confined in slums or dismissed to the expanding prison system. What are the opportunities present in a society where the government operates for the benefit of the top one percent and their special interests, not the people? Gerrymandering prison populations for the benefit of government officials is wrong-headed!

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  11. I know this is a political ploy by the Republicans to keep their power and by the Democrats to increase theirs. And while I don’t want the GOP keeping their power, let’s not forget what the purpose of the census is: to take a snapshot of a country on a specific date (April 1 of years ending in 0). It’s to get as accurate a count possible of where people are residing on THAT SPECIFIC DATE. Prisoners are residing in prisons on that specific date, so they should be counted in the location of the prison.

    Let’s say someone from Queens is incarcerated in Comstock, Washington County, with a sentencing keeping him there until 2035. If he is counted in Queens County, then that county will get the benefit of him being counted there (federal and state money distributed based on a per capita distribution) for the next ten years even though he will never actually be living in Queens and using services there in that time period.

    Prisoners don’t vote ANYWHERE. They don’t pay rent ANYWHERE. They aren’t on school boards ANYWHERE. Again, a census is a snapshot of a specific date. And on that specific date, prisoners are residents of their prison locations.

    Perhaps Jim Bullard’s compromise makes the most sense: count them half in their prison districts and half in their home districts.

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  12. Pete Klein says:

    Perhaps the very idea of a “snap shot on a given day” is flawed.
    Do census takes go to hotels, motels and campsites to see who is there on a given day?
    Boy would that ever boost the population of Hamilton County if that snapshot were taken on a July 4 weekend!

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  13. Peter Hahn says:

    These are our rules and we can tweak them how we agree on. There are flaws with using pure census data for representation purposes. If soldiers are in Afghanistan during the census they do not count for anybody’s district, evidently (thanks Fred Gross). Many people have several homes, spend time with relatives, or away at college some of the time. They could legitimately be considered residents of any of those districts in terms of representation.

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  14. scratchy says:

    “Do census takes go to hotels, motels and campsites to see who is there on a given day?”

    Yes. Same with nursing homes, hospitals, college campuses, etc. I don’t think prisons should be treated any differently.

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  15. Jeff says:

    Count them where they live day to day. Unless they are running for mayor of Chicago….. Sure, it is a hard nut considering college students who have little vested interest in the community wherein lies a school. Inmates have the same lack of interest but they are not free to relocate so perhaps on that issue let them choose, like the mayor of Chicago.

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  16. Fred Goss says:

    In St Lawrence Cty census made a big push to count the students at the 4 colleges in Canton/Potsdam as being “here” on April 1. A lot of them felt, if their driver’s license is from Boston or wherever and that is also where they are registered and vote, that is where they lived…but that isnt the way the US Census sees it.

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  17. The tricky part about full-time college students is that they ARE residents of **and consume services** in their college towns for the majority of the year.

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  18. Pete Klein says:

    What is clear here is that the whole thing is as clear as mud.

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  19. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Not a problem that I know of in NY, but what about the prisons in other parts of the country that take prisoners from other states?

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  20. Mervel says:

    College students choose to live in St. Lawrence County. Prisoners in the state correctional facilities are put here by the state, they have no choices at all in where they live to me this is an intrinsic difference in the two.

    The best option is probably to not count them at all in that they are more like soldiers who are told where to go and have no real home, but are property of the state.

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  21. Pete Klein says:

    Mervel,
    I hope you really don’t mean they “are property of the state.”
    I will admit to being born, raised and a citizen of the USA but I’ll be damned if I ever submit to the idea of being the “property” of the USA.

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  22. scratchy says:

    “Prisoners in the state correctional facilities are put here by the state, they have no choices at all in where they live to me this is an intrinsic difference in the two.”

    They could have chosen not to commit crimes.

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  23. Mervel: Property of the state?!! I assume you actually meant wards of the state.

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  24. Mervel says:

    Legally they are of course wards of the state. For all practical purposes they are property of the state, they eat when the state says, they wake up when the state says, many go to the bathroom only when the state says. They are denied basic civil rights which is part of being incarcerated, they are at the brunt end of the ultimate power of the state over an individual. I am not defending their actions as convicted criminals, just pointing out that they are not citizens of any particular county in this situation.

    Scratchy yes they put themselves in this situation. I still believe it makes no sense logically or morally to count them as citizens of the county where the prison is unless they are actually from that county.

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  25. Ben Hamelin says:

    There seems to be two conflicting issues here. One that the services required to support the prison population for a given area are affected by that population. Government programs designed to assist a community on those criteria (population), should certainly count those inmates. Comparing that to the other issue, that being the redistricting process and how to “assign” those numbers. It’s too easy to make the “Dems/GOP want to pad their districts” argument. I think it boils down to the representation, and where that particular inmate holds the most stake politically. That would be their “home” district. Peter Hahn’s comment “Demographically, culturally, and every other category you can think of they belong in their home districts” makes sense to me. Regardless of prison location, their home district votes matter most to them. Hence they should be “represented” by those district “congress-people.”

    So, my answer in short would be : “Depends”

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  26. tootightmike says:

    Under George Bush, America had more people behind bars than Stalin. Prisons are the MOST expensive way we could find of dealing with our society’s problems, and it makes me suspect that someone’s been lining their pockets and, dare I say, producing nothing to move our civilization forward. Send most of the prisoners back home, enroll them in treatment or jobs programs, and let’s do something constructive with out time, energy, and capital.

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