March 30, 2010
Politicians and convicts alike are arguing with the Census Bureau over where prisoners are counted. Currently, prisoners are counted as residents of the areas where they are being held, not from their hometowns. The last Census information counted 43,740 inmates from the city as residents of towns in upstate New York, meaning those areas could get more legislative districts based on a false population count. Former Attica inmate Ramon Velasquez told the Daily News, “It’s not fair because we don’t use their services. We’re being counted just for a political purpose.”
Though it’s too late to change it for this census, Senator Eric Schneiderman has introduced a bill with Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries that would change the system for the state. Schneiderman said, “The poor communities the prisoners come from … are punished every 10 years.” Upstate politicians are opposing the bill, saying prisoners use public services like water and sewers, and that there is no guarantee they will return to their hometowns when released. “A lot of the families of the inmates live near the prison,” said upstate Senator Dale Volker. “It really doesn’t make a lot of sense to take the prison people and say well, they came from Manhattan and therefore they should be counted in Manhattan.”
According to nonprofit Prison Policy initiative, the 43,740 prisoners are the only reason seven upstate districts met the minimum population requirements for a Senate seat. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit also suggested that counting inmates, who can’t vote, could be in violation of the Voting Rights Act.