Monday, April 11, 2011

Republican Incarceration Strategy Exposed

The New York State Republican Party has exposed itself as favoring incarceration as a strategy for maintaining and expanding Republican political power, and all New Yorkers should be outraged by their cynical and destructive approach.

Incarceration Expands Republican Political Power

As we have discussed in the past, incarceration approaches in New York State have been designed to increase and solidify Republican political power. Nearly all incarcerated individuals are from urban parts of New York State that traditionally vote for Democrats in State Assembly and State Senate races. Nearly all prisons in New York State are in Republican areas of the state. Incarcerated individuals have traditionally been counted as residents of the community in which the prison sits rather than being considered residents of the community in which they chose to live prior to incarceration. The increased population coming from counting incarcerated individuals (who cannot vote) gives voters in Republican areas extra voting strength; their votes carry more weight, and they elect more State Senator and Assembly members than their non-prison population(who are permitted to vote) would be entitled to elect based on population size. The loss of population from urban areas such as New York City reduced the political strength of those areas and undermines urban political influence in our state.

The shift of population from urban area to Republican areas also provides those Republican areas with an unfair advantage in the battle to receive funding from the state and federal governments. Population size affects how state and federal dollars are dispersed for housing, education, transportation, and nearly every area of state and federal funding. The incarceration strategy drains funds away from the poor neighborhood where almost all incarcerated individuals come from and sends those funds to Republican areas.

The elected leaders in the Republican Party have sought to increase the number of incarcerated individuals in order to increase Republican voting power and increase funding to Republican areas.

There is a strong racial element to the incarceration strategy. More than 90% of those incarcerated in New York State on drug offenses are Black or Hispanic (80% of all incarcerated people in New York State are Black or Hispanic), even though all studies show that Black and Hispanic residents of New York State use illegal drugs less than other ethnic/racial groups. By putting large numbers of first-time, non-violent drug offenders behind bars, Republicans have gained political power and funding. They have also taken populations that have traditionally voted for Democrats and made them ineligible to vote, thereby adding to Republican voting power.

Republican Party Files Suit to Maintain Their Incarceration Advantage

During David Paterson's reign as Governor, the democratically controlled State Legislature and the Governor agreed to end the practice of counting incarcerated individuals at the location of the prison and agreed to start counting them at the place of their most recent home. It was a major change, and it signaled the latest attack on the incarceration strategy (previously, the Governor and the State Legislature agreed to end the mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders).

Last week, the Republican Party sued our state to try to reverse the change in how incarcerated individuals are counted. Some of the Republican districts at the heart of the suit would not have sufficient population to remain as districts if they did not count incarcerated individuals in their population counts.

Attorney General Schneiderman will defend New York State against the attack by the Republican Party, and we should be pleased that he was successful in the 2010 election cycle. His Republican opponent and one of his rivals in the Democratic primary were supporters of the incarceration strategy. Schneiderman led the fight to end the counting of incarcerated people at the prison location, and he'll be the right person to defend the law he championed.

In some ways, it is a relief to see the Republican Party admit that incarcerating large numbers of people of color is part of their electoral agenda. Now, the debate is clear. Do we want more non-violent individuals to serve long sentences in order to aid the Republican Party? Do we want the existing incarcerated population used to boost Republican political power? The Republican Party has answered with a strong, "Yes!"

It is up to all of us (as well as Attorney General Schneiderman and the New York State courts) to defeat their efforts.

Bye Black and Enter Walcott

Cathie Black's reign as Chancellor of the New York City school system was brief and humiliating for all of us. It was less a reflection of her lack of knowledge and more a reflection of the arrogance of Mayor Bloomberg.

In a strange twist that seems to deserve explanation, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will become the Chancellor but will not receive the Chancellor's $250,000 salary. Oddly, Walcott is claiming that he chose not to accept the increased salary, while the Mayor insists that Walcott would not have been permitted to receive the raise. One could assume that the Mayor is being frugal in refusing to pay Walcott for the job Walcott will now undertake, but you'd wonder why he is being frugal with Walcott's paycheck when he pushed for massive retroactive raises for his staff during the height of the recession. One might wonder whether Walcott is not really the Chancellor, since he won't be paid as the Chancellor. Perhaps Bloomberg will be the Chancellor, which has always been the problem. We've had a bad Mayor for education. Our Chancellors have suffered because they worked for the wrong leader in our city. The failure of our school system (where only 28% of Black males graduate from high school) is a failure of the Mayor and not a failure of his Chancellors. Dennis Walcott cannot fix the school system until we get a Mayor in New York City who wants our schools to successfully educate our children.

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