Monday, August 18, 2008

Stealing From Manhattan

Upstate New York is stealing voting power and economic resources from Manhattan, and we need to band together to put an end to the theft.

Federally Assisted Theft

The theft starts with the assistance of the Federal Government. The US Census Bureau counts incarcerated individuals as living in the locations where they are housed in prison rather than in their home communities.

When electoral districts are drawn, Census data is used. As a result, voting power is shifted from the areas that suffer most from having their residents incarcerated to areas that have prisons in their midst. In addition, when educational dollars are allocated, population is a key driver. When highway money is allocated and when other investments are made, absolute and relative populations play a major role in determining how much of various resources are available to various communities.

Theft from Manhattan

While, as of 2002, only 24% of those incarcerated in New York State are from Upstate New York, 91% of prisons are in that part of the state. Manhattan loses the votes of those incarcerated and must subsidize the education and lifestyle of upstate communities. Manhattan subsidizes the parks in upstate communities, and Manhattan's ability to fight back is limited by the increased voting power of upstate communities. In fact, many Federal program dollars are allocated based on the number of low-income residents in a given community, and the Census results in those dollars being provided to upstate communities who don’t use the funds to aid those incarcerated individuals whose presence in their communities creates the windfall from the Federal Government.

The Republican control of the NYS Senate persists today because of the theft of voting power by upstate communities. Republican counties upstate are able to elect more members to the State Senate than their actual populations would dictate. After stealing populations from Democratic counties (such as Manhattan) through the prison system the Republican control of the state senate allows the theft to be reinforced and amplified as public policy changes that would help the people of Manhattan are blocked.

It is worth noting that more than 80% of New York State's prisoners are Black or Latino, while the state's prison locations are nearly all in areas with very few Black or Latino residents. Though drug use is equally common outside of communities of color as it is within communities of color (see page 271 of this report by the US Department of Health and Human Services), ninety percent of those in NY State prisons based on drug offenses are Black or Latino. Therefore, this theft from Manhattan is also a piece of a broader crime against ethnic minorities and people of color who reside in New York State. The impact of the diluted voting power and reduced resources that result from this theft is concentrated in neighborhoods where Black and Latino residents live in the largest numbers. These facts add insult to the injury.

See a detailed report on the effect of prison populations on legislative districts in New York State in a report by the Prison Policy Institute.

Preventing Additional Theft

After the 2010 Census, all of the Congressional and State Legislative districts with be redrawn in 2011 and will likely govern our elections until 2021. We must advocate for a change in the Census procedures as soon as possible. We must ensure that Manhattan's proper representative power is restored in the 2011 redistricting process, or we will be agreeing to have our resources and our political power stolen from us for another decade.

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