COALITION TO END PRISON-BASED GERRYMANDERING

Statewide Coalition Comes to Albany to Call for End to Prison-Based Gerrymandering

Hundreds of Activists Join State Leaders in Effort to Restore Democracy

Albany, NY – On Wednesday, hundreds of activists traveled from cities and towns across New York State to Albany to rally in support of legislation that will end the undemocratic, unconstitutional practice of prison-based gerrymandering. Coalition members stood with the bills’ sponsors, Senator Eric Schneiderman and Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries, as they rallied in the Well of the Legislative Office Building.

Prison-based gerrymandering is an antiquated practice by which state legislative district lines are drawn based on population counts that include people in prison as residents of their place of incarceration, instead of their home communities. This drastically inflates the political representation of some communities, and dilutes the representation of all other communities. S6725/A9834 will fix this broken system by reallocating people in prison back to their home communities based on data from the Department of Corrections.

Because this legislation does not change core Census data, there will be no impact on funding for any community in New York.

Currently, New York State law allows counties to determine the population base from which they draw district lines. Thirteen Upstate counties, most of New York’s counties with large prisons, already remove the prison population when drawing county legislative district lines.

“Equal representation under the law benefits everyone,” said Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, the lead sponsor of the bill to end prison-based gerrymandering. “The practice of counting people where they are incarcerated undermines the fundamental principle of ‘one person, one vote’ – it’s undemocratic and reflects a broken system that impacts communities across the state. The time to act is now.”

“This bill is necessary to break the back of the prison industrial complex where certain predominantly rural communities benefit from the criminalization of young people who disproportionally come from low-income, urban neighborhoods across the state,” said Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries, the lead sponsor of the bill in the Assembly. “As a result, we have legislative districts in New York that have representation without population. Prison-based gerrymandering is unfair, undemocratic and unconstitutional, and we will not rest until the law is changed.”

“I believe that when redistricting is done, the goal should be to have fairly drawn districts. Ensuring that all communities in New York State are accurately represented will help us on the way to a fairer and more just system which is a goal we should constantly strive for,” said Assemblymember Al Stirpe, who represents part of Onondaga County.

“This legislation is about giving democracy back to the people,” said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York. “It’s simply shameful that in 2010, those communities most in need are robbed of their constitutional right to equal representation in our state legislature. New York must end prison-based gerrymandering now.”

“This bill requires the Legislature to draw district lines based on accurate population counts, which should be a no-brainer, as our redistricting should ensure fairness and equal representation for all New Yorkers,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY. “This is not only a matter of following our state constitution, it is also a matter of basic fairness. Counting people in prison as residents of the district in which they are incarcerated has the effect of unfairly enhancing the votes of those who live in the district with the prison in it while unfairly diluting the votes of those in districts without prisons. New Yorkers want an end to all forms of gerrymandering, including prison-based gerrymandering.”

“One person, one vote is fundamental to our democracy, but everyone’s vote doesn’t count equally in New York State,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The strength of your vote shouldn’t depend on if your legislative district contains a prison or not. The Census Adjustment Act will bring fairness to the system.”

“Prison-based gerrymandering violates the basic principle of one person, one vote — that all individuals should have an equal voice in the democratic process. And because incarcerated persons in the United States are disproportionately African Americans and other people of color, the current counting of people in prison at their place of incarceration severely weakens the voting strength of entire communities of color,” said John Payton, Director-Counsel of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“People in prison are being used for political purposes. Ending prison-based gerrymandering would not take money from any community, but would stop some politicians from using incarcerated individuals to pad their districts and unfairly gain power,”
said Ramon Velasquez, Leader of NYC AIDS Housing Network & VOCAL, formerly incarcerated for 26 years in New York State Prisons.

Judith Brink, Director of the Prison Action Network said, “Prison-based gerrymandering encourages the New York State Legislature to focus on maintaining prisons, which fragment families, instead of on supporting community based alternatives to incarceration, which can restore a family’s integrity much sooner.”

Learn more about the Statewide Coalition to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering, with over 70 member organizations, at http://CorrectTheCount.org.

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