This session of the General Assembly will be looking at two issues involving prison inmates. One is the idea of strengthening the voting rights of felons, and the other is whether to reform the way inmates are counted by the state. Both are matters of fairness.
On voting rights, there is a range of bills that would restore the franchise to felons who are on parole, or to those who have not yet paid all the fines they owe.
One bill would even restore the vote to people still serving prison time. Although there are a couple of states where prisoners do have the vote, according to The Connecticut Mirror, it seems unlikely that this state would go that far.
Voting by parolees, though, doesn’t seem too much of a stretch. After all, they’ve already paid the bulk of their debt to society.
But for the towns that host state prisons, the issue of what the NAACP has called “prison gerrymandering” may hit closer to home. Calling it “anathema to democratic government,” NAACP leaders argue the system as it stands dilutes the voting power of urban communities. (The NAACP has sued over this.)
That’s because Connecticut counts state inmates as residents of the town where they’re incarcerated. The 1,500 or so inmates at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, for example, are counted there — rather than as residents of their previous city or town.
The towns generally like it this way — after all, it enhances the local population when state electoral districts are designed, and it is assumed that deducting the prison population would have a negative impact on state aid, including the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant.
Be that as it may, it seems to us that the principle of “one man, one vote” should trump financial considerations.
Counting inmates as town residents isn’t reasonable. It shouldn’t affect the size of legislative districts and doesn’t justify more state aid. Inmates are guests of the state, not of this or that town.
As long as the state’s compensation to the towns through PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) funds is adequate, which is a separate question, we should stop counting state prisoners as town residents.
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