Newsweek magazine took a rather narrow look at the question of whether rural prisons “benefit locals.” Newsweek’s Ben Adler notes that the former resort area in the Catskills is now the home to a state prison. In fact, most of the state’s prisons have been built in the rural upper part of New York.
Most of the prisoners, however, come from the New York City area. Get-tough anti-crime attitudes led to longer sentences, more prisons and more inner city residents being (involuntarily) transported to rural areas.
Adler notes that rural residents are no prison employees and have formed a “constituency for incarceration in New York state politics….” And “(w)hen state legislative districts are redrawn every decade after the U.S. census, inmates are counted as residents of where they reside in prison even though they are mostly felons who cannot vote there. So the votes of residents in areas whose population is swelled by nonvoting prisoners gain outsize influence.”
Next year, states will begin to redistrict and prisoners will be counted as residents of the counties where they currently live. However, being felons, they can’t vote, given rural counties an outsized vote. This has led to charges that rural areas are benefiting from city population without proper representation.
Several states are now considering legislation that would count felons
“home” as their last address. We notice, however, that no state seems anxious to move the prisons out of rural communities and back to the cities.