Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Local Pols to Prisoners: You Live In Our County When It Helps Us, Not When It Helps You

with 2 comments

The Prison Policy Initiative’s Prisoners of the Census blog points out that while legislators are happy to count prisoners as residents of their districts come Census time, they’re not legally considered residents for just about any other purpose:

When the Census is not underway and the news cameras are not around, no politician treats the people in local prison cells as residents or constituents.

Most services and benefits that are available only to residents are things that by the nature of their incarceration, people in prison couldn’t take advantage of. We’ll never know if a town with a prison and a residents-only beach would welcome an incarcerated person to swim. Other laws prevent incarcerated people from wandering freely down to the beach. There is, however, one local right that an incarcerated person could exercise if they were a resident of the prison county. The right to divorce in local courts, a right accessible to all county residents, is frequently, if not universally, denied to people whose only tie to the county is incarceration.

When incarcerated people petition the local court for a divorce, they are rejected because they are not residents and instructed to file for divorce in their home county. This is true even if the incarcerated person was married in the prison. (See Washington County Chief Clerk Kathleen M. LaBelle to Troy Johnson, Feb 27, 2003 and March 21, 2003.) In June 2009, Acting Supreme Court Justice Patrick R. McGill in Clinton ruled that despite concluding that the incarcerated person seeking divorce was married at the correctional facility in the county 3 years prior:

“The plaintiff is an inmate at the Clinton Correctional Facility and seeks poor person status… The plaintiff has not established however, that he is a resident of the County of Clinton as the result of any voluntary decision on his part; rather, he is merely present in this county by virtue of his incarceration and may be transferred to a facility in another county at any time.”

NPR’s All Things Considered reported today on the issue of where to count prisoners. For my earlier posts on prisoners and the Census, click here and here.

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Written by sara

February 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm

2 Responses

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  1. [...] leave a comment » I’m traveling this week, but right before I left for my trip, I made sure to fill out and return my 2010 Census form. This was my first “adult” census since I was still a “minor” in 2000 and 1990, so it was kind of exciting to feel like I was being counted (although, also somewhat anticlimactic since the form turns out to be so short!). Of course, I couldn’t help but notice the line on the Census form instructing me not to include in my household count any family members or friends who are currently in prison, since prisoners are counted in the location where they’re incarcerated. I’ve posted frequently in recent months about the issue of “prison-based gerrymandering” — the way that communities where prisons are located benefit from the prison population when it’s time for legislative redistricting, even though prisoners generally can’t vote and aren’t considered members of the community for any other purpose. [...]

  2. [...] any other purpose. For instance, prisoners who attempt to petition the local courts for a divorce are frequently rejected and instructed instead to file in their home county. Another revealing inconsistency is that [...]


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