New Upstate vs. Downstate battle ground: How prisoners are counted
Submitted by Howard Owens on July 25, 2010 - 4:18pm
Felons can't vote, but they do, it appears, have a tremendous influence on New York State politics.
It turns out, where they live (like in a prison in Upstate New York) has some influence on how legislative districts are proportioned.
Some Downstate interests don't like the fact that NYC criminals housed in Upstate facilities get counted as Upstate residents.
There's a proposal in the State Legislature to change how prisoners are counted for legislative districting purposes.
Its prospects are good in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, but it may not get through the nearly evenly split State Senate, where seven districts, including those of two Democrats, would need to be redrawn due to insufficient population if they lost their prisoners in redistricting. The state senators from those districts contend that their constituents are absorbing a public need, not just government dollars, because the prisoners exact a toll on the surrounding areas. “Upstate communities accepted prisons for the economic benefit,” says Sen. Joe Griffo, “but there’s also other impacts, both positive and negative. The fire department, police department, and hospitals all have to respond to the prison and the inmates.”
Although the New York proposal, like the new law in Maryland, would affect only legislative redistricting, not state funding for social services, Griffo argues that political power always translates into government funding, so prison-heavy districts upstate have a real financial stake in preserving their claim on prisoners in redistricting. A spokesperson for Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who sponsored the redistricting bill, characterizes that thinking as “the upstate prison-industrial complex,” protecting its own interests.