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New York: One Signature Away from Ending Prison-Based Gerrymandering

Legislation to end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering in New York, included within the 2011 state budget, passed both the Senate and Assembly last week. Once Gov. Patterson approves the budget package, the bill will go into effect in time for next year's redistricting efforts.

Seven of the current State Senate districts only meet minimum population requirements because of the prisoners they claim as residents, and 40% of an Oneida County legislative district is incarcerated – residents of those districts enjoy an unfair shift in representation as a result of their padded legislative districts.   However, the bill will correct this distortion by accessing the home addresses of prisoners from the Department of Corrections' database and adding them to the population counts for the appropriate areas.  Thirteen rural New York counties already have a similar adjustment policy in place. 

As the Prison Policy Initiative details, two million prisoners nationwide are being counted in the wrong place, significantly distorting both political representation and planning decisions made based on demographic data.  Ironically, this means that "communities that bear the most direct costs of crime are therefore the communities that are the biggest victims of prison-based gerrymandering."  

New York is now the third state, after Maryland and Delaware, to take action to address this problem and pass legislation that counts incarcerated persons in their home districts.