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Census push is on

Maryam Abdul-Aleem | 4/12/2011, 5:22 p.m.

Some of these barriers are confidentiality concerns, fear within the immigrant community on immigration status concerns and a lack of not counting the prison population in the areas where lived before they were incarcerated, rather than the policy of counting the inmates in the rural areas upstate where they are in jail or prison, which has been a concern of many in the community.

"We count college students in dormitories. It's a similar sort of issue," said Groves on the issue of counting the prison population where they live when the issue was raised at the meeting.

To end the federal policy, Congress would have to change the law, but on the state and city level, Jackson, Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat and State Sen. Eric Schneiderman and others are working on getting the state Legislator to pass a bill to have the prison and jail population counted where they lived and not in the county where they are jailed.

In an e-mail message, Schneiderman said, "For census purposes, the practice of counting people where they are incarcerated undermines the fundamental 'one person, one vote' principle--it's undemocratic and reflects a broken system. This legislation is as simple as it is fair: It requires that legislative districts at every level of government contain equal numbers of residents in order to ensure equal representation for all. I applaud Council Member Jackson for bringing this critical issue to the attention of the City Council and generating the momentum we need to move this bill forward in the Legislature."

Jackson told the Amsterdam News "inmates in these upstate prisons don't use any services whatsoever in those towns and municipalities. They don't use the roads, they don't use the county rec center [and] they don't go to food stamps or any thing else like that."

The only possible things they may use are the hospital if they are badly injured, he said.

Proposed bills S1633 and A5946 would allow the state to count these men and women, Jackson explained. However, it would not affect the federal census because Congress would have to change that law. This proposed bill is for the state Legislature.

It would require accurate demographic and geographic information and report it to the state board of elections. "As far as we are concerned, the prisoners or inmates are counted as residents in the county in which they reside," Jackson said, if the bill gets passed.

Speaking on the prison issue, Dukes told the AmNews that because the prison population is counted in the counties where they are jailed, the money from funding stays in those counties.

"When they are released back to Brooklyn, to Queens to Manhattan, the services that they need--heath services, training--there are not enough there for them, and so we think it's unfair for them to be counted there." She continued to say, "We are not talking about lifers. We are talking about people under the crazy Rockefeller drug laws that were sentenced for five years or 10 years.

When they come back home, the census has been counted, she said, and the services are not there as a result.

Jackson said 75 percent of all inmates in upstate prisons basically are from New York City and from 15 assembly districts.

"So we need those individuals to be counted as living in New York [City]," he said.

"I am hopeful that when the Senate is back in session, reforming the practice of prison gerrymandering will be a top priority. There is a well of support for this legislation in the Senate. Currently the bill has at least 15 sponsors. I'm optimistic that we can get this done," Schneiderman said.