How Fight Over Inmate Residency Rules Plays Out In NY


National Public Radio reports on the battle in New York State over where to count prisoners’ residences for census, tax, and political district purposes. At census time 10 years ago, 45,000 mostly black and Latino prisoners from New York City were locked up in the farm country of upstate New York. “It’s like a double slap in the face,” says one inmate. “I can’t vote, and then you take my body and put it in another community, so my community has no political power, so none of my interests get taken care of.”

Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative calls them “phantom constituents.” In New York, they pad mostly white, mostly Republican districts that have been losing population. Newspaper publisher Chuck Kelly in Ogdensburg, N.Y., says his county is poor, with the second lowest per capita income of the state’s 62 counties. He led a fight to locate two prisons in the area when other places, including New York City, didn’t want them. “We needed the jobs, so we went after those jobs,” he says. If Ogdensburg benefits from the census count, he says, it’s just compensation for the public security risk of housing criminals.

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