new york state recently passed legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering in new york. their courageous decision brings new york's redistricting process in line with basic principles of democracy & will serve as a model for other states in the effort to count incarcerated populations correctly in the next round of redistricting.
prior to this new legislation, new york counted prison populations during the redistricting process as most states do: by counting them where they're incarcerated, a practice known as prison-based gerrymandering. this unethical practice violates the principle of one person, one vote enshrined in the 14th amendment of the us constitution, which requires election districts be roughly equal in size, so elected officials each represent the same number of constituents.
prison-based gerrymandering artificially inflates population numbers - as such, political influence - in districts where prisons are located, at the expense of other districts. about 60,000 incarcerated persons are in new york state & the accurate counting of incarcerated folk is essential to fair representation throughout the state.
african-americans living in new york are incarcerated at a rate more than eight times higher than whites living in new york. also, african-americans & latinos account for 30% of the state's population, yet over over 70% of its prisoners. 98% of new york's prison cells, however, are located in in disproportionately white state senate districts.
john payton, president & director-counsel of the naacp legal defense & education fund said, "because incarcerated persons in the us are disproportionately african-americans & other people of color, the current counting of incarcerated persons at their place of incarceration, rather than at their pre-arrest residence, severely weakens the voting strength of entire communities of color." payton further stated, "ending prison-based gerrymandering in new york will enable state & local officials to better fulfill their obligations under the federal voting rights act."
like most states, new york defines a person's domicile as a place where that person voluntarily resides. article two, section four of the new york constitution says an incarcerated person retains the place of residence he or she had prior to arrest. incarcerated persons do not choose the districts where they're confined & can be removed at any time at the discretion of the department of correction services.
unlike myself, incarcerated persons have no opportunities to interact with or develop enduring ties to the surrounding communities. they can't use local services, such as libraries or parks. most importantly, they cannot vote in those communities: they are not constituents of those districts, yet how many new yorkers are aware of these historical indiscretions?
incarcerated persons remain legal residents at their pre-incarceration addresses. they maintain ties to the outside world thru their families & other relationships in their home communities. at the end of their sentences they're released to those communities. the average length of incarceration is less than three years, but the prison count remains in effect for a decade. by counting incarcerated residents of these communities elsewhere, prison-based gerrymandering deprives these districts of the just level of political representation to which they're entitled.
this landmark legislation follows similar bills in delaware & maryland earlier this year. "we urge governor paterson to sign this important legislation into law & call on other states to enact similar legislation before the next redistricting cycle begins, " said dale ho, assistant counsel in ldf's political participation group. ho further stated, "moving forward, the census bureau should ease the burden on state & local governments by changing its enumeration methods to count prisoners in their home communities in the next decennial census."
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.