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Anti-prison Gerrymandering Bill Passes in New York

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By Stephon Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –

NEW YORK (NNPA) - The New York State Senate has passed legislation that could end prison gerrymandering once and for all. Passed as part of the revenue bill, the legislation states that people in prison be counted in their home communities and not the communities where they’re incarcerated for the purpose of redrawing district lines. The bill awaits Gov. David Paterson’s signature.

“I’m really just excited,” said State Sen. Eric Schneiderman when speaking with the AmNews. “I spoke to the governor and the governor’s council and I’m sure he’ll sign it. Once it’s signed, I will work with him and I will also work with the incoming administration to make sure that the ball doesn’t get dropped.”

Across the country, sentiments have been expressed that prisoners being counted at institutional addresses is unfair to their home communities. Redistricting lines can determine the racial and economic balance of a political district. Also, census counts determine funding to specifical neighborhoods.

“It’s not a complicated process,” Schneiderman said. “It’s about making sure the [Department of Correctional Services] enters the right information into the new census blocks.... The politics are hard. The technology’s easy."

Schneiderman couldn’t help but redirect the attention to the amount of time that he and a coalition of groups and individuals put in to help this bill see the light of day. He also mentioned promoting the idea of prison gerrymandering bills with other states in time for reapportionment.

“The other thing is that we have a coalition that we built over the past five or six years that includes the NAACP, David Jones and the Hip Hop Action Network, and Eddie Ellis and Edith Wagner from the Prison Policy Initiative,” said Schneiderman. “What we’re going to do is get together and figure out how to use this and try to get other states in on this as well before the 2012 [redistricting] lines are drawn.”

The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund released a statement praising the passing of the bill and marking the vote as a new day in New York State.

“The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund congratulates the New York State Senate for passing legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York,” read the statement. “Their courageous decision will bring New York’s redistricting process in line with basic principles of democracy and will serve as a model for other states in the effort to count incarcerated populations correctly in the next round of redistricting. ... Prison-based gerrymandering artificially inflates population numbers—and thus, political influence—in districts where prisons are located at the expense of all other districts,” continued the statement. “With approximately 60,000 incarcerated persons in New York State, the proper counting of incarcerated individuals is critical to ensuring fair representation throughout the state.”

Schneiderman believes that Andrew Cuomo, the reported front-runner for New York State governor, will carry the torch that this bill lit to ensure its enforcement.

“I think Cuomo understands this and he will come through,” said Schneiderman. “If [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Carl Paladino became governor, I’d be worried. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

“This is a big deal,” Schneiderman stated. “Things like this and repealing the Rockefeller Drug Laws makes me feel like banging my head against the wall in Albany for all these years and suffering in the Senate was worth it.”

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0 # Guest 2010-08-09 14:38
Actually federal and state aid is based on complex formulas that are not fooled by prison populations in the Census. Most federal aid is distributed to states as block grants, it only matters how may people are in New York state versus any other state, it doesn't matter whether they are located in NYC or in a prison cell elsewhere. Other aid is distributed based on rather complex formulas, school aid for example is determined by the number of poor children, a 3,000-person prison would not "earn" a town one extra penny for school aid.

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