Showing posts with label prisons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prisons. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Morning After

May 8, 2013, 11:07 a.m.

More Jail Cells ("Justice Center") Strikes Out; Third Time's Not Charm

"There is no joy in Mudville -- Mighty Casey has struck out."

Ernest Lawrence Thayer, "Casey at the Bat"

And there is no reason for anyone in Iowa City to feel a sense of joy this morning either.

A proposal for a substantial expansion of the number of jail cells in Johnson County, Iowa, and doing some refurbishing of the Courthouse, went down to defeat for the third time last evening after the votes were counted. As a taxpayer-approved bond issue, it needed 60% to pass, and lost by a slightly larger margin than when last up for a vote last November.

Nobody "won" that election. I hadn't even thought of it in terms of a "campaign" that one "wins" or "loses." I was not a member of either the "Yes" or "No" organizations; contributed no money to either; didn't have a yard sign. Indeed, I wrote an op ed column urging a "Yes" vote last November -- along with some conditions in the form of my hoped-for reforms of that proposal: "Voting 'Yes, but. . .' for the Justice Center," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 15, 2012, p. A7, embedded in "Prisons: The Costs and Challenges of Crime" October 15, 2012.

It was only during the weeks following that November vote that I came to perceive the proponents' resistance, defensiveness, and "There Is No Alternative" stance as being so intransigent that they ultimately pushed me over to the realization that the least worst of our two choices -- "Yes" and "No" -- was going to have to be "No."

As a result, I have written a number of columns and blog essays since that October 15 op ed column (some of which reproduce those columns) on the subject during the past eight months:

"There Are Alternatives," April 30, 2013
"Justice Center's Proponents' Faulty Logic," April 27, 2013
"Why TINA's Wrong; There Are Alternatives," April 25, 2013
"Criminal Justice Center: My Response to McCarragher; The Discussion Continues", April 17, 2013
"Vote 'No' to Justice Center; 'Yes' to Courthouse, Detached Criminal Facility," April 12, 2013
"Johnson County Can Lead Incarceration Reform; 'If not now, when? If not us, who?'" March 8, 2013
"'Iowa Nice' & the Compromise Three-Step; How the County Can Get to 'Yes' on the Justice Center", November 16, 2012
"Prisons: The Costs and Challenges of Crime" October 15, 2012.
Neither you nor I is interested this morning in rehashing all the discussion of the issues in those columns and blog entries. But there is one more that I wish to record here to complete this record of commentary, one that is especially timely since I was asked to address "What should happen next if voters say 'no'?" -- the situation we are all confronting this morning. (Obviously, the columns linked immediately above also explore both the possible alternatives to what we've been doing, both in terms of substance and process.)

The Press-Citizen invited a number of individuals to address one each of three questions. The questions and responses can be found here:

Question 1: Some critics of Johnson County’s plan for a new justice center oppose building more jail space because of racial disparity in the jail and because some non-violent criminals are incarcerated. Are those reservations relevant to the justice center vote? What can be done locally to address those concerns? Contributors' responses to Question 1 are here.

Question 2: Is the justice center proposal the most cost effective solution for addressing the problems that come with the overcrowded jail and century-old courthouse?” Contributors' responses to Question 2 are here.

Question 3: What should happen next if voters say "no"? Contributors' responses to Question 3 are here.

I chose Question 3, "What should happen next if voters say 'no'?" Here is my response for the online version:
Vote again, but separate courthouse from jail


If the vote fails? We should vote again.

Proponents proposed a false choice, both in their own thinking and on the ballot.

As a syllogism: (1) We need more jail cells and courthouse refurbishing; (2) We propose specific details to fix that; (3) Therefore, you must vote “Yes” for our plan or be called a naysayer.

The fallacy was their “therefore.”

In fact, most opponents agreed on the need to do “something.” Disagreement wasn’t about need. It focused on the “something”: what it is, how much of it, where it should be, and what alternative approaches should accompany construction.

Let’s “get to ‘Yes.’” There’s little debate regarding the Courthouse’s interior needs. Let’s vote on that, approve it and do it.

Then let’s give serious consideration to the suggestions from opponents that have largely been rebuffed by the “Yes” crowd. “There Is No Alternative” (“TINA”) is no way to reach compromise, whether in Washington, D.C., or Johnson County.

Years ago “There Is No Alternative” consumed hundreds of acres of farmland with landfills. Today’s innovative, creative alternatives — reuse, recycling, composting among them — save that land for better use.

Can’t we be just as innovative with our justice system needs?

Next steps? Many people have suggestions. Here’s mine: Vote to fix the courthouse — for civil trials only.

Design a more efficient, detached, one-stop criminal justice center — as many other Iowa counties have done — to preserve our courthouse’s appearance.

Explore and implement all best practices for reducing the need for additional jail and prison cells.

There’s more at http://FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com.

Meanwhile, as the Cable Guy says, “Let’s get ‘er done!”
_______________
Nicholas Johnson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and maintains www.nicholasjohnson.org.

_______________

Excerpts from this blog content were combined into the hard copy edition of The Gazette in a section it calls "Blogfeed." Nicholas Johnson, "Blogfeed: From DC2 Iowa," May 12, 2013, p. A10, as follows:

A proposal for a substantial expansion of the number of jail cells in Johnson County, Iowa, and doing some refurbishing of the Courthouse, went down to defeat for the third time last evening after the votes were counted. As a taxpayer-approved bond issue, it needed 60% to pass, and lost by a slightly larger margin than when last up for a vote last November.

Nobody "won" that election. I hadn't even thought of it in terms of a "campaign" that one "wins" or "loses." I was not a member of either the "Yes" or "No" organizations; contributed no money to either; didn't have a yard sign. Indeed, I wrote an op ed column urging a "Yes" vote last November -- along with some conditions in the form of my hoped-for reforms of that proposal.

It was only during the weeks following that November vote that I came to perceive the proponents' resistance, defensiveness, and "There Is No Alternative" stance as being so intransigent that they ultimately pushed me over to the realization that the least worst of our two choices -- "Yes" and "No" -- was going to have to be "No." . . .

In fact, most opponents agreed on the need to do “something.” Disagreement wasn’t about need. It focused on the “something”: what it is, how much of it, where it should be, and what alternative approaches should accompany construction.

Let’s “get to ‘Yes.’” There’s little debate regarding the Courthouse’s interior needs. Let’s vote on that, approve it and do it.

Then let’s give serious consideration to the suggestions from opponents that have largely been rebuffed by the “Yes” crowd. “There Is No Alternative” (“TINA”) is no way to reach compromise, whether in Washington, D.C., or Johnson County.

_______________

A portion of the online response I provided to the Press-Citizen's questions, above, was later used by the Press-Citizen as a Letter to the Editor in the hardcopy edition:

Still Many More Options for Jail
Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 6, 2013, p. A7

If Tuesday’s vote fails, we should vote again.

Proponents proposed a false choice, both in their own thinking and on the ballot.

As a syllogism: (1) We need more jail cells and courthouse refurbishing; (2) We propose specific details to fix that; (3) Therefore, you must vote “Yes” for our plan or be called a naysayer.

The fallacy was their “therefore.”

In fact, most opponents agreed on the need to do “something.” Disagreement wasn’t about need. It focused on the “something”: what it is, how much of it, where it should be, and what alternative approaches should accompany construction.

Let’s “get to ‘Yes.’” There’s little debate regarding the courthouse’s interior needs. Let’s vote on that, approve it and do it.

Then let’s give serious consideration to the suggestions from opponents that have largely been rebuffed by the “Yes” crowd. “There Is No Alternative” (“TINA”) is no way to reach compromise, whether in Washington, D.C., or Johnson County.

Next steps? Many people have suggestions. Here’s mine: Vote to fix the courthouse — for civil trials only.

Design a more efficient, detached, one-stop criminal justice center — as many other Iowa counties have done — to preserve our courthouse’s appearance.

Explore and implement all best practices for reducing the need for additional jail and prison cells.

There’s more at http://FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com.

Meanwhile, as the Cable Guy says, “Let’s get ’er done!”
_______________
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City


This produced the following response from John Whiston, to which I responded, below:

John Whiston
Having separate criminal and civil courthouses is a terrible idea. It was a terrible idea when it was studied in depth and rejected by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee 2-3 years ago. The plan is inefficent. It requires duplicate service at both locations. Courtrooms are used much more often for criminal cases, on the order of 10 to one. So the courtrooms in the old courthouse will sit there and gather dust. There is no place to put the facility. The University refuses to sell land downtown, so it would have to be built on the edge of town like the Polk and Cedar County facilities. Inaccessible to the poor by regular public transportation and imposing additional costs on lawyers, judges, jurors and employees.

Finally this proposal wjould require years of study, design, site acquisition,etc. In the meantime, Prof. Johnson is sentencing thousands of the indigent to serve time in terrible conditions in the current jail.

Here is what I wrote by way of response:

Nicholas Johnson
John and Dorothy Whiston are both solid citizens, with years of positive contribution to Johnson County's justice system, and related institutions and challenges, worthy of the admiration we accord them. Each has recently written thoughtful and civil op ed columns in the Press-Citizen (May 3 and 4) urging support of the proposed facility.

I just disagree with John's position regarding a detached, separate, unified, stand-alone facility. At the time I proposed it I was unaware how widely this approach has been adopted. It was just that intuitively, logically, it seemed to make the most sense to me. Only subsequently did I discover that a great many others, with experience equal to John's, also support the idea.

(For additional views on the proposal, see "There Are Alternatives," http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2013/04/there-are-alternatives.html.)

Indeed, if it is such a "terrible idea" and "inefficient" how come it is so widely used -- not just in Iowa, but throughout the nation and in other countries?

As for "inefficiency" as a result of "duplicate service at both locations," quite the contrary is the case; putting everything related to criminal proceedings in one place is much more efficient, not less, than going back and forth between two facilities (e.g., co-locating jail cells, sheriff, judges, courtrooms, meeting rooms for lawyers and inmates families, clerks, their records, and assistant county attorneys focused on criminal proceedings).

If a part of proponents' idea was to improve the interior of the Courthouse, and provide more space for needed meeting rooms and offices -- even more courtrooms -- why should its present courtrooms "gather dust"?

As for "no place to put the facility" and "years [spent on] site acquisition," since the idea "was studied in depth . . . 2-3 years ago," it's odd it wasn't noticed then that the Courthouse was in the unusual position of having at least potentially available adjacent land to the southeast, south, west, and northeast of the city block on which it sits, for which negotiations could have been undertaken. It would not be necessary to locate the facility beyond the City limits anymore than there was when the administrative offices were moved out of the Courthouse years ago into a similarly detached, separate, unified, stand-alone facility -- generally regarded locally as neither "a terrible idea" nor "inefficient."

Since its design and construction is almost identical to what the proponents want to attach to the Courthouse, why should it "require years of study, design"?

Given that construction of the facility, wherever it is located, will take, what?, two or three years, whether it's attached to the Courthouse or located elsewhere, aren't both of us equally "sentencing thousands of the indigent to serve time in terrible conditions in the current jail" until it's completed?

OK, I recognize my colleague's expertise; and I am not contending that following the example of other counties and building a detached facility is something that has to be done, that "There Is No Alternative."

Quite the contrary. There are many other alternatives that have been put forward by thoughtful and concerned citizens who believe that "something" needs to be done, but do not believe that what's on today's ballot is it.

My point is to simply use this as an example of the proponents' process, their knee-jerk instinct to reject every idea "not invented here" -- by them; their insistence that "There Is No Alternative" to every single detail of their proposal; John's suggestion that because some folks rejected the idea of a detached facility 2-3 years ago that therefore absolutely no respect should be given the idea today, end of discussion.

Proponents are perfectly capable of designing what they believe to be their most effective campaign strategy, but my own view is that the impression their universal rejection of others' ideas has been counterproductive in "winning hearts and minds" of voters. We'll see; my guess is, given their great expenditures, and the likelihood of who votes, they'll probably get their 60% today.

But, as I have written elsewhere, I much prefer the process and substance of the School Board's current seeming openness to consideration of the widest possible range of options in dealing with their increasing student population -- analogous in some ways to the pressures on the jail. Or, another example, the way Iowans responded to the argument that "There Is No Alternative" to building more landfills -- with re-use, composting, and recycling programs that have demonstrated there are alternatives, alternatives that have saved hundreds of acres of good Iowa farmland.

"There Are Alternatives," "There Are Alternatives".
# # #

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

There Are Alternatives

April 30, 2013, 11:45 a.m.

"Getting To 'Yes' by By Voting 'No' on Justice Center"

Nicholas Johnson
The Daily Iowan, April 30, 2013, p. 4

Dave Parsons’ opinion column urged that we “Vote Yes for the justice center” (DI, April 29). He is a member of the committee actively pushing the proposal. As such, his was a commendably civil, best effort to make the most of his unpersuasive case.

University of Iowa students have a stake in this May 7 bond election, and hopefully, they will vote. Justice-center proponents start from a false premise: Opponents don’t understand the need for improvements in our justice-system facilities and procedures.

Not one of my acquaintances opposes the May 7 ballot proposition for that reason. Indeed, quite the contrary. Few, if any, even object to spending whatever taxpayer money we truly need.

No, the dispute doesn’t involve whether we need “something” — for reasons Parsons skillfully set forth.

The dispute is what that “something” should be, how much of it we need, where it should be located, and what reforms in incarceration avoidance should accompany new construction.

I’m not a member of either the “Yes” or the “No” committees. I just want to plan what we need, substantively and procedurally, and do it right, while not making things worse. Like the cable guy says, “let’s get ’er done” — get Johnson County voters to “Yes.”

Fundamental “getting to ‘yes’” strategy involves recognizing the distinction between parties’ “positions” and “interests.” Proponents and opponents share an “interest” in fixing the system. It’s the proponents’ “position” that’s caused the problem.

Proponents’ second logical failing is constructing a position on a conclusion that doesn’t follow from their premises: (1) The Courthouse and jail need fixing; (2) We have a detailed specific plan for doing that; (3) Therefore, everyone must vote for our specific plan.

As a law professor might respond to a student’s similarly faulty argument, “I follow you all but the ‘therefore.’” A need for “something” does not, “therefore,” compel adoption of their proposal.

Proponents’ stance is reminiscent of the late, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, sometimes called “TINA” because of her response to opponents who proposed alternatives to her policies: “There Is No Alternative” (TINA).

It’s like the line from the country song, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.” “That’s our proposal, and we’re sticking to it.” There is no alternative.

Landfills used to be like that. When one filled, there was no alternative to creating more. Today’s acceptance of alternatives — such as recycling and composting — has saved hundreds of acres of farmland.

America leads the world in jail and prison cells. That doesn’t mean, when ours fill up, “there is no alternative” to just building more.

It is no less offensive to attach a big-box modern structure to our National Historic Register, 100-year-old Courthouse — as proponents suggest — than attaching a similar structure to the Old Capitol.

Here’s one of many alternatives:

Many find a detached, stand-alone criminal justice facility more sensible and efficient — sheriff, judges, courts, and jail in one place. Proponents claim it won’t work. Apparently, they failed to tell that to the numerous Iowa counties that have already done it and like it. In fact it’s what we did when we needed more County administrative space: the separate administrative building an easy walk down the street.

This has the added benefits of preserving the integrity of the Courthouse exterior and setting, providing more space inside exclusively for civil proceedings, and avoids plopping a bunch of criminals in jail cells in the center of a downtown area the City would like to develop for tourists and residential use.

If the bond issue passes this time, “that’s all she wrote.” We’ll have to live with a desecrated Courthouse and other consequences. But if it’s defeated May 7 maybe, like Goldilocks’ porridge tasting, the third time they’ll get it right.

There are alternatives.

_______________
Nicholas Johnson
University of Iowa College of Law
www.nicholasjohnson.org
FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com


Addendum

Something I failed to include in this Daily Iowan column is a response to the proponents' argument that we should build their Justice Center first, and then think about alternative procedures, future trends, "peak-load" analysis (with the associated comparative costs of renting cells), and what our actual need for jail cells will be.

It reminds me of a School Board session during the years I was serving. A proposed new school was on the agenda. I had earlier wanted us to explore alternative approaches to school crowding (such as the recommendations of the National Commission on the High School Senior Year) and teaching (such as team teaching with block scheduling) that would have an impact on both school size and design. The other Board members wanted to go immediately to an architect and ask the architect what we needed. I responded, "You know, normally before you go to the architect you know whether you want her or him to design you a courthouse or an outhouse."

Many of the opponents' suggested alternatives (involving such things as cash bail, priorities for arrests, sentencing, dealing with recidivism, and treatment of those with mental illness, among many more) can have an enormous impact on the number of needed jail cells and the design of the facility.

Following that, there is a basic peak load analysis to be done that I have not seen referred to so far, let alone run and resolved. That involves looking at our costs of incarcerating prisoners here compared with putting them in other counties' jails. There has at least been an assertion that it's actually marginally cheaper to put them elsewhere. That's not necessarily a reason to do it. There are benefits to inmates, their lawyers and families to having them here. But it does affect the peak load question.

Once we agree on the reduction in need as a result of alternative approaches we can project what the maximum daily occupancy will be in any given year, and how many days it will reach that level. We are then left to address: how many days a year do we want to be able to keep all our inmates in a Johnson County facility? How many days a year -- 5? 50? -- does it make more economic sense, on balance, to ship an agreed upon percentage -- 3%?, 10%? -- elsewhere. In other words, how many cells are we willing to build and pay for, knowing that they (like the rooms in a motel) will be empty a giver percentage of the days every year?

The result of that analysis is essential before even designing a facility, let alone building it. (For that reason, it may be somewhere in the proponents' documents, which I confess to not having read and memorized in their entirety.)

_______________

What follows is my online comment in response to a Press-Citizen May 1 editorial, which is reproduced following my comment.

As much as I admire what the Press-Citizen has contributed to civic journalism on the Justice Center issues, I cannot agree with this editorial's conclusion. See, "There Are Alternatives; Getting to 'Yes' by Voting 'No' On Justice Center," http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2013/04/there-are-alternatives.html

From my lifetime of experience (yours may be different) I haven't found granting requests now, in exchange for promises of doing better in the future, to work out very well (e.g., "take me back, and I promise I'll never have another drink"; "I know I haven't paid you back that last loan, but if only you'll give me this one more loan I swear I'll start paying you back the first of next month").

Proponents' syllogism goes like this: (1) The courthouse needs fixing, the jail needs expanding; (2) We have a specific plan to fix that; (3) "Therefore," you must vote for our specific plan or forever be judged a naysayer. "There Are No Alternatives" (Margaret Thatcher's "TINA.")

That's the logic underpinning the op ed of the charismatic and able Mike Carberry in this paper today, and the League of Women Voters column in this morning's Gazette.

My response? "I follow you all but the 'therefore.'" In fact, there ARE alternatives, as Jeff Cox explains in his column this morning -- and they are alternatives that can have an impact on what we need to do and build. Contrary to the editorial, surely it's worth another 6 months before spending $40 million-plus on something we'll be living with for the next 30 years.

The proponents keep itemizing the need. That's a false issue, a straw man. Virtually everyone agrees "something" is needed. The issue is not whether we need "something" different from what we now have. The issue is what that "something" ought to be, how much of it we truly need, where it should be located, and what incarceration reduction efforts will accompany that design and construction.

"There Are Alternatives," http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2013/04/there-are-alternatives.html is a response to the proponents' argument that we should build their Justice Center first, and THEN think about alternative procedures, future trends, "peak-load" analysis (with the associated comparative costs of renting cells), and what our actual need for jail cells will be.

Proponents have it precisely -- but it's precisely backwards. This is a time, and opportunity, to be truly creative and innovative in response to our challenges, not to knee-jerk vote "Yes" for the first plan to come along, based on an assumption that if we are putting more people in jail the only alternative is to go on doing what we've been doing and just build more jail cells. We need to fix and plan first, then design and build.

We don't respond to overflowing landfills by taking more farm land out of production, rationalizing that "there is no alternative" to building more landfills. We think, we innovate, we recycle, we compost (see, among hundreds of others, the Gazette's page-one story this morning, "Road Map for Reducing Waste"). Can't we be equally creative with the jail challenge?

Many of the opponents' suggested alternatives can have an enormous impact on the number of needed jail cells and the design of the facility.

Following an evaluation of those alternatives, there is a basic peak load analysis to be done that I have not seen referred to so far (at least in local newspapers' coverage), let alone run and resolved.

(It involves, but is not decided by, looking at our costs of incarcerating prisoners here compared with putting them in other counties' jails. There has at least been an assertion that it's actually marginally cheaper to put inmates elsewhere. That's not necessarily a reason to do it. There are benefits to inmates, their lawyers, and families to having them here. But it does affect the peak load question.)

Peak load analysis. Once we agree on the impact on need of alternative approaches, we can project what the MAXIMUM day's occupancy will be in any given year, and how many days a year it will reach that level. We are then left to address: how many days a year do we want to be able to keep ALL our inmates in a Johnson County facility? How many days a year does it make more economic sense, on balance, to ship an agreed upon percentage -- 3%?, 10%? -- elsewhere; 5 days a year, 50 days? In other words, how many cells are we willing to build and pay for, knowing that they (like the rooms in a motel) will be empty a giver percentage of the days every year?

For example, if the largest overflow occurs because of drunks on football weekends, we certainly don't need to build and maintain empty jail cells 365 days a year for THAT purpose.

Answering those peak load questions is essential before even designing a facility, let alone building it.

Let's get this one right. There ARE alternatives.


Editorial, "Vote 'Yes' and Keep Addressing Concerns"
Iowa City Press-Citizen
May 1, 2013, p. A12

As a newspaper editorial board, our natural inclination is to side with those who are fighting against the power structure.

• To fight for those who have documented how about 40 percent of the people in the custody of the jail on any given day are black when blacks make up only 5 percent of the county population.

• To champion the causes of those who point out how the jail population has grown five-fold over the past 30 years while the county population has grown only by about 150 percent.

• To back those who are working to reduce the number of university students who graduate with a non-violent drug or alcohol charge on their record in addition to the one, two or three majors that they’ve managed to complete.

But we think those struggles should continue in conjunction with — not in opposition to — the new justice center being proposed.

If you removed every single black inmate from the responsibility of the Johnson County jail, the sheriff’s office would still be responsible every day for farming out overflow inmates to neighboring county jails

If you removed everyone charged with marijuana possession alone — as opposed to in conjunction with domestic assault, driving under the influence or some other charge — it would have almost no effect on the daily population of the Johnson County Jail.

Back in 1981, county officials caved to public pressure and requested a bond for a 46-person jail that in no way met the county’s needs for an inmate population. And even worse, the county agreed to a design that didn’t include options for expansion.

In 1993, the jail inspector allowed the county to double bunk inmates and thus increase the jail’s total bed population to 92 — even though everything within the jail was designed for half that number.

The overcrowding finally reached a boiling point in the late 1990s, and the sheriff’s office tried to make a case then for why a larger jail was needed. Unfortunately, the sheriff and other supporters failed to show that they were interested in finding jail alternatives for non-violent offenders who offer no risk to the public.

In hindsight, their proposal deserved the nearly 2-1 trouncing it received at the polls in 2000.

But that 13-year-old bond issue is very different from the recent proposals for a justice center that will address the problems of a grossly overcrowded jail as well as the space, security and accessibility concerns of a century old courthouse.

And especially since Lonny Pulkrabek was elected in 2004, the sheriff’s office has been working with the county attorney and others to establish credible, workable, successful jail diversion and alternative programs.

Some opponents of the current justice center proposal suggest the county officials should separate the jail component from the courthouse and then find the additional money and political will required to build a larger jail on county land near the intersection of Melrose Avenue and Highway 218.

Other critics say that the most cost-efficient plan would involve tearing down the century-old county courthouse — a historic structure — selling the land and starting the planning process over.

But we’ve long supported the plans to purchase more land near the courthouse and build a joint justice center that would cut down enormously on the risks and costs involved with transporting jail inmates.

Other critics argue that the current plans for a justice center would detract from Iowa City’s plans for developing the Riverfront Crossings neighborhood. Yet MidWestOne Bank officials — knowing full well that a justice center is a likely possibility for the area — recently announced that they are looking to build south of Burlington Street.

Although we share many of the opponents’ concerns over the county’s incarceration rate, we don’t think this project should wait another six months or a year. Maintaining the status quo means that, any given day, about 50 Johnson County inmates are being farmed out to jails in neighboring counties. That costs the county in the neighborhood of $1 million a year — down from a high of $1.3 million in 2011.

The inmates who are farmed out don’t have ready access to their lawyers. Nor do they have ready access to their families or any other support system. And basic logistics say that the inmates who are going to be in the jail the longest are the ones who can be sent furthest away.

And the unfortunate truth is that some inmates with special needs actually might fare better in those other, larger jails because those facilities will have space for the programming that the Johnson County jail has no space to offer in the current jail.

We recognize that the odds are very much against county officials managing to muster 60 percent support for a necessary county service that most people would rather pretend doesn’t exist — or at least would rather pretend doesn’t affect them. But kudos to county officials for trying. And kudos to the 56 percent of county residents who voted “yes” for a slightly larger version of this proposal less than six months ago.

Tuesday’s election won’t have the presidential candidates on the ballot to help bring people out. But we still hope that those county residents who are interested in providing a more secure and safer environment for county employees — as well as for innocent-until-proven-guilty jail inmates — will come out and vote “yes.”

And then we hope, on Wednesday, proponents and opponents alike will continue to work on addressing concerns over the racial disparity among local incarceration rates and will continue to push for those jail alternative/diversion programs to be fully staffed and better funded.

# # #

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Justice Center's Proponents' Faulty Logic

April 27, 2013, 9:30 a.m.

Arguments for Justice Center Proposal Built on Flawed Foundation

Surely it is not really the case that in order to resolve our current justice system challenges, "There Is No Alternative" to despoiling our National Historic Registry, 100-year-old, architectural gem of a Courthouse like this:












When we could resolve our challenges with a more efficient, detached "Criminal Justice Center" for roughly the same cost, leaving our Courthouse's exterior and setting to look like this:













I've got good news and bad news.

Let's start with some good news; an example of a community's successful, innovative responses to a challenge.

When I was a young boy, American communities' response to an increased supply of material needing transformation was to acquire more land to be used for landfills. It wasn't that opponents' proposed alternatives to this approach were rebuffed; it was that such alternatives weren't a part of the communities' policy dialogue. (Recycling during World War II, like rationing, was sold to the public as a part of the war effort, not as a way to avoid additional landfills.)

The late, former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was sometimes referred to as "TINA," because of her oft-heard response to the Loyal Opposition's proposals of alternatives to her policies: "There Is No Alternative." It was the response of some in Johnson County to recycling, or other alternatives to ever-more land devoted to landfills.

There is still not unanimity of opinion regarding today's alternatives. I have a couple colleagues who refuse to recycle.

But there appears to be ever-increasing innovation and participation. Consignment stores recycle clothing, furniture, housewares, and many other things that might otherwise have been discarded. Habitat ReStore has used building materials and appliances. Goodwill Reboot recycles computers and related gear -- a major diversion from landfills, as well as savings for users. We pay refunds for the recycling of drink contains made of aluminum, plastic, or glass. We have a recycling center that accepts cardboard, plastic, glass, tin cans, newspapers, magazines, telephone books, and other paper. City trucks pick up recyclable items from containers at curbside. Unused food and other material is being turned into compost and mulch. Some things have become a source of methane gas, or fuel to create heat or electric power. As a result, Johnson County has preserved land for farming, parks -- or suburbs -- that would otherwise have been turned into landfills.

That's the good news. That's an example of what innovative "creative corridor"-type thinking can contribute to resolving a modern community's, or county's, challenges.

Unfortunately, it stands in sharp contract to how we're approaching the challenges confronting our justice system.

The County is proposing to build a shiny, big box, modern architecture "Justice Center" and attach it to the Johnson County, National Historic Register Courthouse. Defeated by the voters last November, it's up for another vote May 7, 2013.

The proposal has sparked a lively exchange of views throughout the community.

Unfortunately, the debaters have yet to join issue.

The proponents continue to lean on a straw man that cannot bear their weight. They point out that the Courthouse needs more than just a facelift, and that the way we're running our criminal justice system in Johnson County we're going to need more jail cells -- specifically, we have to have precisely their proposed structure, located exactly where they propose to attach it and nowhere else. Like Thatcher, they insist, "There is no alternative."

The problem with the proponents using these assertions as their basic premise is that those urging a "No" vote agree that the Courthouse needs fixing; many even agree that we may need more jail cells that we now have.

Here is an example of their rhetoric, beginning with the comment I put on the Press-Citizen's online version of a recent column written by one of the Justice Center proponents.

Scott McKeag provides reasons why "something" needs to be done about the Johnson County Courthouse and Jail.

What he fails to address is why he believes in the late former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's theory of "TINA" -- "There is no alternative" -- in this case to the proponents' concept of a modern "Justice Center" attachment on the historic Courthouse.

He acknowledges that even "the 'no' campaign's biggest voices... agree the justice center has to be part of a larger solution" -- the latest of which is Karen Kubby's column, along with McKeag's, in this morning's Press-Citizen. Karen Kubby, "Supportive of Justice Center, Yet Voting 'No,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 26, 2013, p. A7.

There may be some local citizens who believe in doing nothing about the conditions of our Courthouse and jail. But there are none among my acquaintance or persons I have ever met.

McKeag's is a false argument. I'm tempted to respond with the old line, "I follow you all but the 'therefore.'"

The controversy is not about whether "something" should be done. The controversy involves precisely what that "something" ought to be.

There are as many sound objections to the proponents' specifics as McKeag provides reasons for doing "something." See, "Vote No 'Justice Center," -- and give special attention to the links to its "Why vote NO" and "Opinions" pages.

And the opponents have as many positive suggestions for what those better alternatives might be as they have objections to the May 7 ballot proposal. See, for example, the very thoughtful collection of alternative approaches in American Civil Liberties Union, Smart Reform is Possible: States Reducing Incarceration Rates and Costs While Protecting Communities (August 2011), or any and all of John Neff's research and writing.

If the proposition passes "that's all she wrote." But if it fails again, which is always a possibility, what do we do next?

In "Vote 'No' to Justice Center; 'Yes' to Courthouse, Detached Criminal Facility," I propose ways we can "get to 'yes'" on both needed Courthouse improvements and a detached Criminal Justice Center.
Is it really the case that the citizens of Johnson County are genetically incapable of bringing the same kind of creativity, the same kind of willingness to consider alternatives, to our justice system challenges as we brought to our landfill challenges? I just can't believe that is the case.

For some of my other writing regarding the County's Courthouse and jail needs, "Why TINA's Wrong; There Are Alternatives," April 25, 2013; "Criminal Justice Center: My Response to McCarragher; The Discussion Continues", April 17, 2013; "Vote 'No' to Justice Center; 'Yes' to Courthouse, Detached Criminal Facility," April 12, 2013; "Johnson County Can Lead Incarceration Reform; 'If not now, when? If not us, who?'" March 8, 2013; "'Iowa Nice' & the Compromise Three-Step; How the County Can Get to 'Yes' on the Justice Center", November 16, 2012; "Prisons: The Costs and Challenges of Crime" October 15, 2012.

Now here is the column of Mr. McKeag that prompted my response, above.

"County Residents Agree, So Let's Move Forward"
Scott McKeag
Iowa City Press-Citizen
April 26, 2013, p. A10

I spent my entire undergraduate career at the University of Iowa opposing the idea of a new jail.

I had heard the opposition’s points, read their amusing fliers and took their word for it, knowing that our country has a historical track record of inequities in its justice system. I would have voted “no” to any proposal put in front of me up until two years ago.

At that time I was working with area high school students about how to use local research tools as they worked on civics projects of their own, and I began to see the data for myself. I began paying more attention during my visits to the aging courthouse, however infrequent.

Almost accidentally, I began to think for myself. I remember thinking about how and where I would want my tax dollars spent and about how important it is to ensure we aren’t depriving civil liberties and rights for the accused and incarcerated.

I also recognized the importance of empathy and the promise for a better future for those historically on the wrong end of society’s prejudices. Eventually I had the courage to admit to myself and others that building a large enough jail to meet the current and projected needs of the county did not conflict with my desire to see better race and socio-economic relations in our county, state and nation.

More importantly, I realized I could best oppose the misguided “War on Drugs” by demonstrating that lobbying my state and federal representatives is more appropriate and effective on these larger issues, rather than protest voting against my own best interests as a county resident.

Last November I supported the justice center, and I support it now, because I recognize that our jail isn’t full of recreational drug users and “newly drunk” to “sobering up” students. In fact, an April 8 report showed that of the 125 individuals in our jail at that time (which is 79 more than the original capacity of our 1981 jail); zero persons were in for only having marijuana or only having too much to drink over the weekend.

Those 125 were there because the laws above the county level said they had to be.

I support the justice center because you cannot have the most progressive jail diversion and treatment programs in the state if you are forced to use a hallway as a meeting area.

I support the justice center because our hardworking county employees shouldn’t have to risk breathing in mold spores and falling down 100-year-old stairs to file my paperwork in a room that is out of space.

I support the justice center because we need to have adequate facilities to ensure those who are legally mandated to stay in jail don’t have to do so in other counties.

And after observing the “No” campaign’s biggest voices making public comments saying they, in fact, do support the building of a justice center, it becomes clear that we all agree the justice center has to be part of a larger solution. Their issue is with the increased capacity of the proposed jail, which itself accounts for only about one-third of the project’s total cost.

A “no” vote will only serve to make this problem bigger and more expensive down the road for current and future taxpayers. There is something in this proposal for everyone, and current city and county leadership has even begun to explore deeper societal structures to continue its efforts to engage both the public at-large and the opponents of the justice center.

So let’s fight the state and federal battles together tomorrow. It’s time to stand for Johnson County today. Vote “yes” on or before May 7.

Scott McKeag is an Iowa City resident.

# # #

Monday, October 15, 2012

Prisons: The Costs and Challenges of Crime

October 15, 2012, 9:10 a.m.

November 8, 2012, 9:00 a.m. -- POST-ELECTION, BOND DEFEAT UPDATE:

The Johnson County Justice Center bond proposal on Tuesday's [Nov. 6] ballot went down to defeat. That is, although a majority (56%) of those voting on it voted "Yes," that was not enough to clear the 60% hurdle required by Iowa law.

So the County Supervisors and allied supporters of the proposal have been meeting to decide what to do next. Lee Hermiston, "Justice Center Group Plans Next Move; Deciding Whether to Go Back to Voters; Critics Vow Same Plan Will Not Pass," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 8, 2012, p. A1. [And see also, Gregg Hennigan, "Johnson County leaders discuss possibility of another justice center vote; Another vote would have to wait at least six months," The Gazette, November 8, 2012, p. A2; and Cassidy Riley, "Johnson County officials say justice-center battle is not over," The Daily Iowan, November 8, 2012, p. A1.]

As I commented on the online version of Lee Hermiston's story, "Many of the proposed Justice Center's opponents acknowledged that 'something' was needed, and that they'd support it. Many of the supporters had serious concerns. A chance to revisit these issues may prove to be the best outcome for Johnson County. Unlike Washington, compromise is a real possibility."

Some supporters are advocating physically pushing through the proposal in a subsequent vote just as soon as possible. Presumably, this means they would simply raise more money, to repeat their failed talking points with greater volume and quantity.

Frankly, I think this would be a mistake, whether opponents prove to be right or wrong in their prediction that, "This will not pass, I guarantee you" (as Hermiston quoted Sean Curtin). The comments from both supporters and opponents have left a lot of possibilities for compromise on the table. Johnson County citizens have a substantial reservoir of civility and compromise that this exercise in democracy could draw upon -- to everyone's credit.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil thinks "the proposed center [could] use some changes." He's said, "I’m not interested in putting the same proposal in front of the voters that just voted it down." Hermiston also reports, "[S]upervisor Janelle Rettig said some issues still need to be addressed, such as the racial disparity of those who stay in jail for longer than a week;" and that "[Johnson County Attorney Janet] Lyness . . . suggested that members of the opposition be involved with those [future] discussions" of the committee of supporters.

These folks are setting the right tone and strategy. Otherwise it's going to reek of the City Council's recent effort to cut the public out entirely on a bond vote regarding grants of taxpayers' money, not for a public, traditional governmental project (such as jails), but for a private entrepreneur's profit-making venture.

There is no need here to outsource our design and decision to expensive out-of-town consultants, meaningless surveys, and endless discussions that never reach conclusions -- except an agreement to have yet another discussion. We can work this out.

I would make one more very specific suggestion that seemed to work for the School Board when creating its somewhat contentious governance policies. Come up with one person who is willing to do the writing, someone who either voted "No," but sees the need for some improvement, or someone who voted "Yes," but sees real problems with the failed proposal -- or possibly one of each. Task them with coming up with, first, as complete, factually accurate, and neutral a paper as they can create putting forth every one of the advocates' assertions for, and opponents' assertions against, the current proposal. Second, have he/she/them work -- separately -- with selected groups of supporters and opponents whose job it will be to come up with the best responses they can provide to the others' arguments. Revise the paper accordingly (including both assertions and responses). Third, select representatives of both camps who seem to be the most inclined to rational, analytical, data-driven, civil discourse on these issues to see what kind of a compromise proposal, if any, can be created.

An illustration of a possible contribution to the latter comes from Supervisor Rettig, as reported by Gregg Hennigan in this morning's Gazette: "Supervisor Janelle Rettig said . . . she’d support the county paying more for the project up front to reduce the amount bonded and not fully building out the facility at the start." Gregg Hennigan, "Johnson County leaders discuss possibility of another justice center vote; Another vote would have to wait at least six months," The Gazette, November 8, 2012, p. A2.

Discussion can be constructive; it is also essential. But my experience has taught me that it is multiples more efficient, effective, and speedy if it is focused on a written document at the outset. As the discussion progresses, the document is revised. This produces both a tangible product from the discussion, greater likelihood of agreement, and a record of the the process.

Just a thought. You're welcome.

What follows is the blog entry entered here October 15, 2012:

Humankind has struggled with virtually every aspect of crime and punishment since we came down out of the trees. See, e.g., "Criminology," Wikipedia.org.

The economic and human cost of the "solution" called incarceration have created both a multi-billion-dollar industry and human failures. "With more than 2.3 million people locked up, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. One out of 100 American adults is behind bars -- while a stunning one out of 32 is on probation, parole or in prison [NJ: a grossly disproportionate percentage of which are minorities and the poor]. This reliance on mass incarceration has created a thriving prison economy. The states and the federal government spend about $74 billion a year on corrections, and nearly 800,000 people work in the industry." "Billions Behind Bars; Inside America's Prison Industry; CNBC Goes Behind the Razor Wires to Investigate the Profits and Inner-Workings of the Multi-Billion Dollar Corrections Industry," CNBC, October 2012.

Prisons have now become America's most fully occupied, and expensive, public housing program.

Nor have Iowa, and Iowa City, remained outside these challenges. Johnson County's supervisors, and sheriff, are recommending local residents approve a near-$50-million bond burden on top of their current property taxes to provide a substantial expansion to our local contribution to the prison industry and our own public housing.

Here is my own effort, in this morning's [Oct. 15] Press-Citizen, to keep to the requested 500-word limit on my own thoughts about the challenge:
_______________

Voting "Yes, but. . ." for the Justice Center
Iowa City Press-Citizen
October 15, 2012, p. A7
Nicholas Johnson

I’ll be voting for the justice center. Some increase in jail cells and courtrooms seems warranted, notwithstanding dispute about numbers.

But questions, concerns and unused opportunities remain.

• Big picture, big debt. Iowa taxpayers’ debt service obligations are about $2 billion. We’ve just promised $250 million to a foreign corporation: jobs for Iowans, profits for Egyptians. Our local school district is eyeing its $281 million borrowing capacity. Downtown development takes millions in TIFs. The justice center adds $48 million-plus. There’s no central rationalization of priorities on taxpayers’ behalf.

• Regional centers. For 100 years — the 1830s to 1930s — Iowa’s horse-and-buggy 99 county governments made sense. They don’t anymore. Politically, counties can’t be abolished. But mental health services now are transferring from counties to “regions.”

Why not regional jails — the low-cost alternative to 99 jails designed for peak occupancy?

Our $1 million a year sending inmates elsewhere compares favorably with the jail’s share of $48 million. Why not continue it for those serving week, month or longer sentences? Wouldn’t that reduce the cells needed for the football drunks and those awaiting trials?

Why are neighboring counties’ jails not full? Is it possible future policy and funding changes with mental health and dependency populations, social and political attitudes, technological and other innovations will further reduce the need for jail cells? Won’t rationalizing our continued, though reduced, use of others’ jails give us more future flexibility?

What would a peak load analysis suggest as our optimum number of additional cells?

• Criminal consolidation. How about a standalone criminal structure — courtrooms, meeting and class rooms, along with jail cells? It would improve efficiency, consolidation and eliminate courthouse security concerns. Potential, adjacent, full city block locations are available southeast, south, and west.

Our courthouse is one of Iowa’s greatest early, Romanesque structures. More than 110 years old, it deserves, and should continue to be, maintained in its original setting — like Old Capitol. That was the wise choice when moving courthouse offices to the current County Administration Building five blocks away. It’s the wisest, win-win choice now.

Moreover, this would enable limiting a refurbished, more secure courthouse to civil cases.

• Holistic approach. A significant proportion of the criminal population suffers from the mental health and chemical dependency challenges that make them repeat visitors. Jails are neither their answer nor ours. Johnson County has made commendable progress transferring these individuals from jails to specialized courts and programs. But might it not be cheaper, more effective and humane, to budget as well as administer to this population’s total needs with a single program? Can we do even more to reduce the need for jails?

We need some additions to our criminal justice capabilities. That’s why I’m voting “yes.” But that doesn’t mean additional thought, and modification of what’s now on the drawing board, couldn’t serve us even better.
_______________
Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City native and former school board member, teaches at the Iowa College of Law and maintains www.nicholasjohnson.org and FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.org.

# # #

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We're Number 5! and Athletes Crowding Jails

August 21, 2007, 8:40 a.m.

Lots of news items inspiring commentary this morning:

Building Character (or is it "characters") Through Sports

Three Iowa football players are in trouble with the law; two for credit card theft and one for failing to make a court date regarding a prior offense based on an offense before that. Scott Dochterman, "2 Iowa Receivers Charged, Suspended," The Gazette, August 21, 2007, p. C1.

And pro ball players are also on the legal pages. The Atlanta Falcons' Michael Vick pleaded guilty yesterday to animal abuse in a dogfighting operation, conspiracy charges, and bankrolling gambling -- crimes with a maximum term of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is now scheduled for August 27 (next Monday) -- at which time it's more likely to be one year than five. AP, "Vick to Plead Guilty," The Gazette, August 21, 2007, p. C4.

Very likely in the minds of these four the greatest penalty will be the interference the legal system is going to put in the way of their getting back on the field for awhile.

What ought to be on the minds of our UI and athletic program administrators is: What went wrong? We put enormous resources into the recruiting, guidance and academic assistance for these athletes.

Ironically, one of the credit cards was stolen from inside one of those very expensive resources: the University of Iowa's Gerdin Athletic Learning Center. Makes you wonder what they're learning inside that building.

No program, however tightly run, can prevent all conceivable legal violations and other misconduct. But does the story behind these sad and costly violations provide any insight into how our own program could do even better? Let's find out.

Party On!

Of course, every time the reputation of the University and its athletic program take a punch in the nose like that, fortunately there is always some good news to balance it out. And so it is this morning.

The UI may only rank 64th among America's universities according to U.S. News & World Report, but by golly we're 5th in the nation for students' consumption of hard liquor according to the Princeton Review (not to mention number of bars per student and "most profitable market in which to operate a bar with the least City Council and University oversight" according to me). Hey, at least we're known for something positive around here. Hieu Pham, "UI Again Ranks Among Party Schools; School Also Ranks 5th for Har Liquor Use, 18th for Beer Use," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 21, 2007, p. A1.

UI VP for Student Services, Phillip Jones, put it best: "We suffer from a reputation that has, unfortunately, been earned." Erin Jordan, "Less Partying Gives U of I a Real Reason to Celebrate,"
Des Moines Register, August 21, 2007. How earned? The University's own statistics reveal that "nearly 70 percent of U of I students surveyed last fall by Student Health Services said they had participated in binge drinking in the previous two weeks."

How is the United Way Like an Overcrowded Jail

I often write about governance models, and governance guru John Carver's notion of "ends policies." This approach requires the kind of hard thinking by board members that produces little beads of blood on your forehead. "What is it we're really, and most fundamentally, trying to accomplish?"

Once you think about it, it turns out that "We got 32% more news coverage for our organization than last year," or "We exceeded our fund raising goal by more than $25,000," or "We handed out more leaflets in high schools this year than in any prior year" don't qualify as "ends policies."

The Gazette, always a leader in "civic journalism," is this morning editorializing about -- regardless of what the United Way of East Central Iowa folks are calling their process -- amounts to this kind of tough thinking about "ends policies" (or "goals").

The whole editorial is worth reading, but here's an excerpt:
Some details on what’s changing in United Way’s transition from its traditional role to the new community impact model:

* Traditional: United Way is a fundraising organization. New: United Way is a community impact organization.

* Traditional: Funds agencies and programs. New: Invests in strategies for community change.

* Traditional: What do agencies need? New: What does the community need/want?

* Traditional: Emphasis is on money raised. New: Emphasis is on impact agenda results

* Traditional: Builds relationships with businesses. New: Builds relationships with businesses, individual donors and the entire community.
Editorial, "United Way's Expanded Role," The Gazette, August 21, 2007, p. A4.

So what on earth does this have to do with jails?

The Press-Citizen is editorializing this morning that we need a timeline for building a new Johnson County jail. Editorial, "Establish Clear Timeline for Overcrowded Jail," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 21, 2007, p. A11.

In fairness, the editorial does provide the balance that Press-Citizen editorials often do. It notes,
the question has long been whether the county is using the space it has most effectively. The Sheriffs' and other departments have to prove that they are working together to alleviate enough of that overcrowding through jail diversion programs and other alternatives. Only then will Johnson County voters be convinced that a new jail is not merely an expansion of the "incarceration industry." No one is interested in merely having the county lock more people up; we want the county to lock up the people who present a danger and to be providing alternatives and rehabilitation to those inmates for whom it would be beneficial.
When it comes to the final sentence, however, the paper advises, "It's past time to establish a clear timeline for how long the county expects the jail staff and other law enforcement officers to work in such an overcrowded facility."

How might we think about the "jail issue" if we were to apply the Cedar Rapids United Fund, and Gazette's, notion of "traditional" and "new" thinking -- or what John Carver calls "ends policies"?

What is it we're really trying to accomplish when we have conversations (and editorials and blog entries) about the number of Iowa City police officers, whether or not to arm the campus police, or whether to build the consultants' recommended 450-bed new jail?

Isn't the "end" we seek a community that minimizes the threats to its inhabitants' health, safety and (as the Declaration of Independence puts it) "pursuit of happiness"? That includes a focus on clean air, water and safe food; the need for affordable housing; plans for dealing with natural disasters, such as tornadoes and flooding; epidemics of new strains of flu -- and, of course, the adverse consequences of criminal behavior.

That is one (not the only) way of expressing our "ends policy." That's not to say we're unconcerned about criminals in crowded conditions, or county employees working there. It's only to say that it is but a relatively minor sub-set of what we're really trying to accomplish.

When we do get around to that subset issue, that "means" to our "end," we have another challenge. As the Press-Citizen puts it, "The Sheriffs' and other departments have to prove that they are working together to alleviate enough of that overcrowding through jail diversion programs and other alternatives."

And after we have put in hours of searching the Internet for what other counties -- and nations -- have done to most efficiently deal with this challenge, and after we have run the benefit-cost analyses for all conceivable alternatives to the way the current criminal justice system works, we are left with another question.

Like the issue of how many police officers the City of Iowa City should employ, the question of how many beds for criminals should be supplied by Johnson County in the form of a 450-bed, multi-million-dollar jail is a "peak load problem."

That is to say, it's highly unlikely we will ever have enough police -- or space in jail, or hospital emergency room personnel, beds and supplies -- to deal with worst case scenarios. We probably want to maintain something more than the average (whether mean, median or modal measures) need for all of these resources. But how much more is a judgment question -- and a judgment question that must balance the enormous cost of maintaining mostly unused facilities and resources against the costs of not having them on the rare occasions when they really are needed.

This further complicates the comparative benefit-cost analyses of, say, a 450-bed Johnson County jail vs. transportation to other State of Iowa or counties' facilities. (It's almost inconceivable that there would not be economic and other benefits to Iowa's 99 counties cooperating on this, as other, basic county obligations -- as has been advocated to little avail over the past half-century or more.) If, after exhausting all possible alternatives to putting persons in jail, we are transporting, every day between 20 and 30 prisoners elsewhere, and the most reasonable projections are that this will continue and possibly even increase, and the cost of doing so is greater than housing them in Johnson County, a case could be made for creating more jail beds here (although not necessarily 350 more).

There are others more wise than I about the criminal justice system, prisons, county government -- and benefit-cost analyses. But it does seem to me that our logic is a little simplistic when we say that (1) our jail is "overcrowded" (without providing answers to the "what do you mean? and how do you know?" questions), (2) the only way to solve an overcrowded jail problem is to build more and bigger jails and prisons, and, therefore, (3) we need a timeline regarding the planning and ultimate construction of a multi-million-dollar, 450-bed jail.

# # #

Monday, July 16, 2007

Updates: Sicko, Wellmark, UIHC, Search, Prisons, Bikes

July 16, 2007, 6:15, 6:45, 7:45 a.m.

Updates: Sicko, Wellmark, UIHC, Search, Prisons, Bikes

Sicko

Marcy and Ed Rolene, "Thank You to Dean, Faculty," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 16, 2007, p. A9 ("We drove to Cedar Rapids to see 'Sicko.' It confirmed what many Americans already believe. Health insurance companies look out for their bottom line, not for the health of the public.")

"The health of the public?" "Public health?" Hmmm. Could there be a connection here? Has Wellmark been moved to generosity by a Michael Moore movie? Was "The Wellmark College of Public Health" a preemptive strike, designed to associate "health insurance company" with "public health" in a positive way in the public's mind at the same time "Sicko" is being watched by millions of Americans?

"Sicko" very powerfully documents the role of insurance companies in denying Americans health care under our system -- not to mention their lobbying and campaign contributions designed to deny Americans the kind of health care system enjoyed by citizens of countries who are provided the benefits of universal, single-payer systems. Those countries provide their citizens health care for all, free to the recipient, at a lower cost to the society to cover all than we pay to cover some, with better results in terms of public health generally, including longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates than we have.

Anyhow, although the Rolenes had to drive to Cedar Rapids to see the film, Iowa City residents -- living as we do in what the Marcus Theaters considers a little, backwater, rural Iowa town -- will actually be able to give the theater chain our money to see "Sicko" locally this Friday, I'm told.

No health care delivery system is perfect -- not ours, not those of other countries. But I challenge anyone to watch that film with an open mind, from start to finish, and then explain to me why they still think the system we have is on balance better than the systems offered the citizens of the rest of the industerialized world. Elected public officials should be forced to watch "Sicko" -- and then report to the world how much money they've taken from the insurance and big pharma industries.

The Wellmark College of Public Health: "Gift" or Shrewd "Advertising Buy"?

Talk about being defensive! The following sounded more like the wild and crazy ranting of a deranged blogger from inside an insurance company board room than something that would come from an editorial board room: "pointless academic principles," "sudden attack of the ethical heebie-jeebies," "drum roll please," "interesting that the college was OK accepting the corporation's lavish gift, but apparently only as long as the outside world was unaware of the source." (Of course, no one ever said "the outside world" should be "unaware of the source" of the gift. Such gifts are always acknowledged with public announcements -- unless the donor wishes for them to be anonymous. That had nothing to do with the issue, which was the possible adverse consequences of an unprecedented naming of a University of Iowa college for a corporation.) I think the "thistle" should have been awarded to the Register, not the University. "Roses & Thistles: Iowa School of Public Hypocrisy," Des Moines Register, July 15, 2007, p. OP 1.

Press-Citizen's Single-Subject Op Ed Page: "Naming Right Draws Passionate Responses," July 14, 2007, p. A 15

Gregs G. Thomopulos, "No Strings Are Attached to Wellmark's UI Gift"
[Thomopulos is a Wellmark board member]

Jim Lewers, "How Much is $15 Million? A Lot, But That Doesn't Matter" [So far as I've been able to discover this column is nowhere available on the Press-Citizen's Web site.]

Letters:

Peter Hansen, "Possible to Sell Out the Entire University"

Garry Kuhl, "Time for Wellmark to Return to Origins"

Kembrew McLeod, "A 'Gift' Should Have No Strings Attached"

Mike Woodhouse, "How Does Wellmark Have All That Cash?"

Wendy Luxenburg, "Faculty Decision Was the Right One"

UI Governance, UIHC, Wellmark, President

Brian Morelli, Dean Says UIHC CEO Role Being Stripped; Documents Show Insiders' Concerns," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 14, 2007, p. A1

"Gary Fethke E-Mail to James Merchant" [June 5, 2007], Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 14, 2007

"Katen-Bahensky Letter to Gary Fethke"
[December 5, 2006], Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 14, 2007

I have no idea what this is all about -- except that I imagine, as the captain of the Titanic discovered with regard to icebergs, that there is probably a good deal more below the surface than above.

There are some really tough governance and organizational issues here. So I'm left with general observations based on my administrative and managerial experience.

* When everybody is in charge, nobody's in charge. There's a value to having clean lines of responsibility with as few levels of reporting as possible -- up to and including the near-flat organization.

* There's no magic organizational alternative to good rapport among humans who like and respect each other and "play well with others." As much as one would sometimes like to "get the humans out of the loop," as it was phrased in the 1983 movie, War Games, as that film demonstrated we can't do it all with computers -- or with organization charts.

* The devil is in the details -- not in the organization charts. As Maritime Administrator I made a point of interviewing as many of the thousands of employees as possible about the details of their work days. That's the level at which meaningful "re-organization" -- not to mention improvements in morale -- needs to be done. It's a sub-set of MBWA -- management by walking around. When MARAD later became part of a "reorganization" effort the boxes were moved from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Transportation -- by individuals who had never set foot in the agency. The organizational issues I had earlier spotted and resolved -- or not -- were simply moved from one cabinet department to another without ever being addressed in the process. I have no way of knowing, but I would not be stunned to discover that the UIHC and College of Medicine could benefit from the kind of reorganization effort I put in at MARAD -- before addressing the design of the boxes on their organization charts.

UI Presidential Search

Diane Heldt, "Presidential Search to Cost UI $315,000," The Gazette, July 14, 2007, p. A1

Brian Morelli, "Second President Search Cost Over $81 K,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 14, 2007

Prisons for Our Mentally Ill

Jennifer Hemmingsen, "Special Needs Unit Unveiled,"
The Gazette, July 14, 2007, p. B1

Rachel Gallegos, "Oakdale Unit Meets Prison Health Needs," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 14, 2007, p. A3

Bicycling

Kathryn Fiegen, "Bike Riders Go the Distance and Eat All Along The B-Eat-en Path; Better Bikes Have Cyclists Traveling for a Bite to Eat,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 15, 2007, p. A1

Rachel Galegos, "'Tour de Brew' Rides Across Eastern Iowa; Official Says Event's Attendance has Doubled Over Every Year Held," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 15, 2007, p. A3

# # #

Sunday, June 24, 2007

More UI Prez Links & How Many Police

June 24, 2007, 8:00 a.m.; 12:30 p.m. [times reflect additions to the entry -- for the benefit of those few individuals who check back occasionally during the day -- as well as reflecting the fact that what is called "life" occasionally interrupts blogging]

Wanted to complete the links to news stories about the UI Prez Search that I didn't get to yesterday. Virtually all from November through June are now somewhere on this blog.

There 's also some commentary, below, regarding the Press-Citizen's editorial about increasing the size of the Iowa City police department.

Yesterday's and today's UI prez search links:

Brian Morelli, "New UI president starts connecting with students; Mason becoming a Hawkeye," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

Brian Morelli, Fundraising Important Presidential Task," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

Duncan Stewart, "UI Presidential History: Dear President Mason," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

Russell Scott Valentino, "'A Person Who Can Unite Others, Motivate, Even Inspire Them,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

John Solow, "'Our Athletics Department is Run By People of Great Integrity,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

John C. Keller, "The Link Between Teaching, Research and Scholarly Missions," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

Erin Jordan, "U of I head gets bonus if she stays for 5 years; Sally Mason's deferred compensation of $60,000 a year is in addition to her base salary of $450,000 per year,"
Des Moines Register, June 23, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Ripple effect; UI salary could mean pay bumps for other presidents in state," The Gazette, June 23, 2007, p. A1; Diane Heldt, "Open Search for UI President Gets an A," The Gazette, June 24, 2007, p. A1 (these stories may be found by going to The Gazette's main Web site and using drop down menus to find "06/23/2007" and "06/24/2007" and page "A1")

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"How many police officers does it take to . . ."

Yesterday the Press-Citizen editorialized "Iowa City Police Understaffed in Relation to Nation," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007.

Let me make some things clear up front.

a. If we really need more police officers let's get them. I'm not opposed to raising taxes to do so, if necessary. But a City Government the size of that in Iowa City often contains people, practices and programs that could be run more efficiently -- and in the process often more effectively.

b. I like the police. My anticipated career when in junior high was in law enforcement. I helped organize, with some classmates, the "Johnson County Junior Bureau of Investigation." J. Edgar Hoover kindly sent us materials. We got old "wanted posters" from the Post Office, the Sheriff, and the Police Chief. A former FBI agent showed us how to make plaster casts of footprints. The first "book" I ever wrote was How to Classify Fingerprints. Our little group was permitted to attend the annual "Iowa Peace Officers' Short Course" -- and did very well on the exams.

c. My personal experiences with the police have been positive. I don't recall ever being given a ticket for anything more serious than overtime parking. But it's pretty easy to avoid speeding, and even parking, tickets when you put more miles on your bicycle each year than on your gas vehicle. So I don't take a lot of credit for that.

d. Like most of the subjects I write about, I claim no expertise as to this one either.

e. Moreover, I'm willing to work with the assumption that any ideas I can come up with have probably long been on the mind of our new Iowa City Police Chief, Sam Hargadine.

But, if not, he and others responsible for such things might want to consider the following -- many of which are beyond the control of our Police Department.

1. Less input, better output. There are retired admirals and generals who pointed out how cuts of as much as one-third of our defense budget would actually improve our national security and defense posture -- and that was years before they even needed to calculate the additional harm we're doing to our "homeland security" with the billions spent on our military operations in the Middle East. (See, e.g., Center for Defense Information.)

It's true of many governmental programs -- presumably including police protection.

It helps no one -- especially not tax payers -- to cut programs that are truly essential, not to mention programs that will return in savings later many times over what they cost today.

But it is not the case that "you get what you pay for" -- as Consumer Reports has been dramatically demonstrating for 70 years.

So what are some of those alternative approaches?

2. Task and Mission. What is it we're asking our police force to do? With regard to any given task, "Why?" Is it necessary for anyone to do it? If so, are police officers the best trained and efficient folks to call on?

Years ago, one of their tasks was to check for overtime parking and write up tickets. It was ultimately realized that we didn't need police officers -- well trained, armed and fully equipped, driving expensive, outfitted police cars -- to perform this function. It could be done just as adequately, and much cheaper, by others (especially given today's technology).

Here's another example of spending less and getting more. Cities like Iowa City, as well as others all across America, have experimented with at least some police officers on bicycles, or walking beats, as an alternative to their driving cars. It's both cheaper, and often more productive, as a way of integrating the police into neighborhoods.

Our department used to have, and I presume still does, a "community relations" program. Is there more that we could do on the front end (in our schools, among other things) to reduce the need for police on the back end? As with health care, prevention is almost always cheaper (and requires fewer officers) than dealing with a problem later.

Are there potential savings in administrative overhead? Are there paperwork requirements that are hindering officers from doing their jobs -- while adding to the administrative costs of processing the paper (or electronic reports)? On the other hand, are there administrative jobs that could be more efficiently done by officers than other employees; or, as with the parking tickets, jobs being done by officers that could be done more cheaply by others?

3. What's a "crime"? Bars are businesses designed to profit from the sale of alcohol. It's illegal for them to sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. To permit them to admit customers who are legally prohibited from participating in the business in which the bar is engaged defies common sense -- whether before or after 10:00 p.m. Under-age drinking in Iowa City's bars is commonplace, the bar owners know it, and they profit from it. My view is that we should either (a) lower the drinking age to 18, or (b) simply enforce the law, limiting admission to bars to those over 21.

I mention this now only because it is an example (which happens to be outside the power of the police department to control) of how what we define as a "crime" has an impact on the size (and budget) of our police department. Enforce the 21-only standard and my instinct tells me there would be less need for police downtown late at night on Fridays and Saturdays. (Whether, as some contend, there would be greater needs elsewhere as a result is another matter.)

What I call "the lesser drugs" (alcohol being our nation's number one hard drug problem by any measure), also offer examples. I don't know what the standards are now under Iowa law, or in Iowa City, regarding the quantities of marijuana that are either illegal or are thought worthy of police enforcement. But as those amounts are varied up or down they have an effect on needed police resources.

Not incidentally, they also have an impact on the "need" for additional jails and prisons. A system of "drug courts" and treatment programs may not affect the number of drug offenders coming to the attention of police and judges, but it can certainly have an impact on how many return.

The same can be said for speed limits, and restrictions on turns at intersections -- in fact virtually everything mentioned in the Code of Iowa and Municipal Code of Iowa City. The police can't change those laws, but they -- in consultation with the City Council, County Attorney and others -- can modify the standards they will apply in enforcement, and the County Attorney in prosecution.

4. "Peak loads," Coordination and Overtime. Peak loads are a classic problem for systems analysts.

In the days when men got their hair cut in barber shops, and usually on Saturdays, the shops had to decide how many chairs (and barbers) to have available. Too many and they lost money on chairs that sat empty most of the week. Too few and they lose customers on Saturday.

It's a problem for airlines, serving business customers who want to be on time for morning appointments in distant cities and back home for dinner. As you may have experienced, there's a bit of a crush in the early mornings and around 5:00 in the afternoon and early evening.

It's also a problem in staffing police departments, or fire departments.

There's no way we can afford to keep on a year-round payroll the 1000 police officers we'd like to have -- and would need, along with some national guard troops -- under some imaginable scenarios.

So what do we do? We don't staff up for those ultimate emergencies. We hire a few more than we need on some days, and a few less than we wish we had on others. And the factors that affect those needs are for the most part outside of the control of the police and unpredictable -- with the possible exception of football Saturdays, which are known in advance.

Given the variations in need from hour to hour and day to day, there is really only a range, rather than a precise number, of full time police officers that it would be reasonable for Iowa City to employ.

Consolidation and coordination. We're talking about a consolidated communications system for local law enforcement units in Johnson County. That's probably a great idea.

But what about the next step? The number of people in Johnson County is not that much more than the number who live in large apartment complexes in New York or Tokyo. Does it really make sense for that number of people to be served by what may be a dozen or more law enforcement organizations?

Talk about a win-win! With consolidation and coordination costs decline and quality of service improves. Just one of the reasons is that peak load problem. Each of the units must maintain a margin of resources to deal with unexpected demand. Add up all of those margins around the county, not to mention the duplication in administrative overhead, and you're talking about a lot of officers -- with budgets to match.

I don't minimize the embedded resistance to a change of this kind from within those units. And some of the resistance may well have a rational basis that would need to be seriously studied. But it might be worthwhile to think through the advantages of such a change as well, or as many of them as are politically attainable, rather than rejecting the idea out of hand.

Overtime is desired by some employees in any organization. It's an easy way to pick up additional income without working two jobs -- and in some retirement plans can even boost an employee's benefits beyond what his or her base pay was when working. So it necessarily creates a conflict of interest of sorts -- whether or not there is abuse. It may be that there could be some savings in overtime costs by rescheduling work days, postponing some tasks to regular work hours, and other advance planning. Clearly if there is an indisputable need for an ongoing level of overtime that exceeds the cost of an additional full time officer, it would be cheaper to hire one.

5. Statistics.
My fading memory is that the rule of thumb used to be one police officer for every 1000 population. Apparently the national average is now 1.8 per 1000 for cities the size of Iowa City. We have 1.1 per thousand. Sounds like we need more police -- and we may.

But there are a couple of mathematical points to be made.

There are three comments readers have added to the Press-Citizen's editorial. One, by "geardaddies" at 8:42 p.m. Saturday, notes that there are "more than 30 full time police officers" with the UI's campus police. If true, they probably really do need to be included in the count -- at least in some way. That would bring the total Iowa City police resources much closer to that national average.

Is that particular average the most relevant? The editorial also reports that serious crime in Iowa City is down (while increasing in some similar college towns). Whether those numbers be accurate or not, might this "average" -- police officers per serious crime -- be the more relevant number? Of towns with populations similar to ours, what is the average number of police officers as a percentage of serious crimes per year? How do our number of police officers per serious crime compare with other communities numbers of police officers per serious crime?
Just a few thoughts as we ponder "How many police officers does it take to . . .."

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

This blog began in June 2006 and has addressed, and continues to addresses, a number of public policy, political, media, education, economic development, and other issues -- not just the UI presidential search. But that is the subject to which most attention has been focused in blog entries between November 2006 and June 2007.

The presidential search blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. They end with Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 505 - Next (Now This) Week," June 10, 2007 (100-plus pages printed; a single blog entry for the events of June 10-21 ("Day 516"), plus over 150 attached comments from readers), and Nicholas Johnson, "UI Hostages Free At Last -- Habemas Mamam!," June 22, 2007.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to FromDC2Iowa.Blogspot.com will take you to the latest. Each entry related to the UI presidential search contains links to the full text of virtually all known, non-repetitive media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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