by Peter Wagner, February 12, 2003

We can’t speak highly enough of Nils Christie’s Crime Control as Industry (review, buy from Amazon.com). Christie’s first book, Limits to Pain (1981), which argues that the criminal justice system is in fact a pain delivery system, with the size of the system controlled not by the number of committed acts labeled as crimes but by the amount of pain that a society is willing to impose on its citizens, is now available on the internet. Limits to Pain is powerful in its own right, and very helpful in studying the most recent book. We suggest you read the on-line version of Limits to Pain today.


by Peter Wagner, February 3, 2003

I submitted this letter to the editor of the Daily Freeman in Greene County New York:

Dear Editor,

I agree with John Houghtaling of Athens that it’s not fair for Coxsackie to get two extra legislators because the state owns two prisons there. [Legislature remapping criticized, Daily Freeman, Jan 29, 2003].

While troubling enough in theory, the actual impact is more than twice that reported by the Daily Freeman. According to Census 2000, there are 2,870 prisoners in Coxsackie, not 1,200. Almost a third of the town’s official population is incarcerated in Coxsackie or Greene Correctional Facilities.

No more than a handful of the prisoners are from Coxsackie or Greene County, but those two prisons account for 6% of the county’s reported population. Counted in Coxsackie only as a result of a Census Bureau quirk, it’s unfair to the other portions of Greene County for Coxsackie to pretend to be 48% larger than it really is.

Using census counts of prisoners for redistricting may go beyond being “not fair” to violating the federal and state constitutions. The 14th Amendment principle of one-person-one-vote requires that legislative districts be of equal-sized populations. Including out-of-town prisoners in the count for Coxsackie gives each real Coxsackie resident greater access to county government while diluting the votes of other county residents.

The New York State Constitution is quite explicit that prisoners reside at their pre-incarceration homes and not at the prison: “no person shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence, by reason of his presence or absence … while confined in any public prison.”

Census quirks aside, the true population of Greene County is 45,325 and Coxsackie contains 6,014 residents. While Coxsackie is really only 13.3% of the county, counting disenfranchised prisoners as Coxsackie residents swells the weight of the town to 18.4% of the county. Allowing Coxsackie to appropriate the state’s prisoners for purposes of representation at the county legislature dilutes the vote of every resident in every other town in the county.

For purposes of redistricting, counting state prisoners as Coxsackie residents is neither logical nor fair.

Peter Wagner
Prison Policy Initiative
February 3, 2003

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