Monday, December 27, 2004
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT New York Times editorial board member Brent Staples--always worth reading--has an interesting opinion piece in today's paper about the incentives some legislators face when considering prison-related issues:
Nearly all of the prisoners ended up in upstate New York, where failing farms and hollowed-out cities offered a lot of room for building. Politicians in these sparsely populated districts caught on quickly and began to lobby to have the new prisons located in their communities.Did I mention that the legislators in question are Republicans?
As a result, nearly 30 percent of the people who were counted as moving into upstate New York during the 1990's were prison inmates.
The inmates...helped to save political careers in areas where legislative districts were in danger of having to be merged because of shrinking populations. Inmates, as it turned out, were magically transformed into ''residents,'' thanks to a quirk in the census rules that counts them as living at their prisons.
Whether those legislators have consciously made the connection or not, it's hard to escape the fact that bulging prisons are good for their districts.
The advantages extend beyond jobs and political gerrymandering. By counting unemployed inmates as residents, the prison counties lower their per capita incomes--and increase the portion they get of federal funds for the poor. This results in a transfer of federal cash from places that can't afford to lose it to places that don't deserve it.