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The Power of Now
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
HARTFORD — The legislature’s Judiciary Committee Monday considered bills that would change where prisoners are counted for population tallies – a move viewed by some as a threat to municipal aid from the state and by others as step toward political equity and fairness.
Raised Bill 1193, An Act Concerning the Determination of the Town of Residence of Incarcerated Persons and Raised Bill 6606, An Act Concerning the Determination of the Residence of Incarcerated Persons for Purposes of Legislative Districting would require inmates to be counted in the city or town where they lived prior to incarceration, rather than the municipality where the prison is located.
States use the decennial Census data to redraw the boundaries of state and local legislative districts but the U.S. Census Bureau, a division of the federal Department of Commerce, counts prisoners where they are on April 1 at the turn of each decade.
Peter Wagner, an attorney and executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, said the state is not required to base redistricting on Census data. This year, for the first time, the Census Bureau is making a data file available to assist in finding correctional facilities in the Census data, he said.
Dale Ho, assistant counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said that under Connecticut law, prisoners are not considered residents of the municipalities where prisons are located. Counting them as part of the population of those cities and towns “artificially inflates” population levels and by extension political influence, he said.
“No one’s voice should count less in the General Assembly just because you don’t live next to a prison,” Ho said.