We once visited a stockyard in Sioux City Iowa and spoke to some of the cattlemen there. They said that when it came to making money from a cow, they use “Everything but the moo.” That this is pretty much the attitude of upstate politicians towards the prisoners held in their districts, becomes apparent in an interview with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery.
Not only do the prisons provide jobs for the area and increase the local voting power, Senator Montgomery pointed out that for decades “The Republicans were able to rule the senate based on the prisoners,” counted as part of their districts. Another plus for the upstate districts from having prisoners on the count is that they take not only the body, but find profit in the prisoner’s station in life as well. “After all, that is what the Census is for,” she continued. “It determines how many people live in each city who are of different income, age, ethnic, and occupation categories. All of these factors help generate public dollars based on the needs of people in the various categories.
So in the upstate counties, prisoners are counted as low income and have all of the needs associated with that. Funding goes to those districts,” rather than the home districts where most come from, districts in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.
The Senator points out that what this means for districts such as hers is that “With the Rockefeller Drug Law repeal, many more people will be returning home in the next few years. Based on that we have a constant influx of people who need support services. And if they’ve not been counted as part of our district, We’ve lost funding based on that.”
So for years after the prisoners are counted, they will be released back to the areas they came from, areas that have been deprived of the dollars to service them. “We’ll need to provide housing, all health services, substance abuse treatments, counseling, as well as, hopefully, job training and job placement.”
“The Census counts population, period. Based on population, a senate district is drawn, council districts are drawn, congressional districts are drawn, and city council districts are drawn.” Speaking of how this relates to the State Senate, Montgomery said “If it were not for the prisoners, there would not be enough people in some upstate areas to form a Senate District..”
Senator Eric Schneiderman’s has introduced an act “to amend the correction law, the legislative law, and the municipal home rule law, in relation to the collection of census data,” that seeks to correct this situation.
” There is definitely pushback on this legislation” from upstate legislators says Montgomery. “It does not benefit them. In those rural areas, they had more power than urban centers where the prisoners come from.”
As a former slave, valued at 3/5th of a man, Frederick Douglass would be familiar with the situation highlighted by the report of the prison initiative (www. prisonpolicy.org ) where we see that in state Senator Dale Volker’s 59th District, when you deduct the 8,951 prisoners (4,447 of which are black), the district has 285,306 residents. Senator Montgomery’s 18th District has 311,260 residents- not even adding in the count from the prisons. Meaning that the people in her district are worth almost 10% less than those in the rural areas upstate.