Unfair Prisoner Counting Skews State Legislative Districting

One of the first things I learned in law school is the difference between a residence and a domocile: A residence is where you hang your hat, a domocile is where your heart is. In other words, your domicile is your home, not where you happen to be sleeping and eating.

In 1790, it was determined that inmates should be counted according to where they are housed while doing time, not where they come from -- or where they will return once their sentences are up.

The issue is gaining more attention as a result of a congressional directive to the U.S. Census bureau to study the issue of where inmates should be counted as living, for the purpose of determining the population of legislative districts. Population is what determines both funding and districting.

How to count inmates historically has not been a big issue. But the fast-expanding prison population -- now about 1.5 million -- is prompting a debate because government spending and electoral district boundaries are in part decided by population. Opponents say the practice unfairly rewards rural, often sparsely populated regions where many prisons are built, at the expense of the cities where many prisoners had resided.

...The issue pits the bureau, resistant to change its long-standing procedure, against activists who say that the practice results in misleading demographic data and large distortions in the size of electoral districts. It also pits rural lawmakers against urban ones.

The Census Bureau is expected to release its report this month. There should be a change. Parole boards pretty much dictate that when an inmate is released, he or she has to go back home. Prisons are usually in rural parts of the state. Prisoners have no say in where they are designated and even less in where they may be transferred during their terms of incarceration. Also, consider how many inmates are from urban and inner city areas. By designating them as residents of a rural area far from their home, their home district doesn't get to count them an may lose funding.

Inmates' domocile at the time of incarceration should be the operative factor, not where the state or feds decides to warehouse them. Here's an example of the present policy's unfairness:

More than 40,000 convicts from New York City, in the southern part of the state, are housed in prisons upstate. Seven state Senate districts would not qualify as districts without their prison population, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, an activist group. More worrisome, the group says, is that two politicians from those areas, Republican state Sens. Dale Volker and Michael Nozzolio, lead the committees on the legal code and crime and have been enthusiastic backers of long-standing, controversial laws that require long prison sentences for drug crimes.

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    Re: Unfair Prisoner Counting Skews State Legislati (none / 0) (#1)
    by john horse on Mon Jan 30, 2006 at 03:56:53 AM EST
    Does this remind anyone else of the "three-fifths compromise" to the Constitution. (for the historically challenged, read this)

    Anamosa, IA has a city council ward that is made up almost entirely of a prison.

    Re: Unfair Prisoner Counting Skews State Legislati (none / 0) (#3)
    by squeaky on Mon Jan 30, 2006 at 11:36:41 AM EST
    The only fair solution, to balance the greed of these politicians, is to allow prisoners a vote, or not allow them to count as represented. Locking people up has been profitable for too long. As you point ou in your downstate vs upstate NY example, not only does downstate lose votes but upstate gains power due to the claim that they represent those who are imprisioned in their (fake) districts. A double whammy.

    Re: Unfair Prisoner Counting Skews State Legislati (none / 0) (#5)
    by rMatey on Mon Jan 30, 2006 at 06:00:45 PM EST
    Aha! You can count 'em for your district. Just don't let them vote ('cause they're poor, black, liberal or probably all three)

    Re: Unfair Prisoner Counting Skews State Legislati (none / 0) (#4)
    by aahpat on Mon Jan 30, 2006 at 06:20:48 PM EST
    john horse: In fact the New York times characterized the issue using just those terms in Dec. 2004. "The practice recalls the early United States under slavery, when slaves were barred from voting but counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportioning representation in Congress." Here is a page that I maintain with more facts and links about this apportionment subversion issue from a Pennsylvania perspective. When I wrote about the Wash Post article last night at my LeftIndependent blog I noted that the author could not even get the right prison population numbers. today the Wash Post added a factoid box and page with prison numbers that under-represent the issue by more than 25%. So I wrote another post: Washington Post is disinforming the public The title of the Wash Post article refers to activists but does not name any. In their factoid box they attribute the population numbers to the Justice Department AND the prison Policy Initiative which is the lead activist group on this issue. The Wash Post couldn't mention the Initiative in the original story but to justify their faulty numbers they mention the activist group. Squeaky: Where the prisoners vote is not as important as where they are counted. Count them in their home districts and many of the rural Republican districts at both the state legislature and US congress level that have prisons in them would be redrawn.

    Re: Unfair Prisoner Counting Skews State Legislati (none / 0) (#6)
    by aahpat on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 09:01:23 AM EST
    rMatey: January 30, 2006 07:00 PM That is about the size of it. The software here at TalkLeft deleted the link that I posted yesterday that shows how this issue effects Pennsylvania politics. So, hopefully, here is is again but with extra spaces that need to be deleted. If that does not work the page can be found on Google by searching the phrase "Pennsylvania democracy incarcerated". The most up to date version of the page is the 'workxpdi.htm' version. [Please read the intstructions in the comment box on how to post a url in html format]