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.

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2 comments:

John Neff said...

1) The jail is overcrowded because early in 2001 the Iowa Jail Inspector effectively set the maximum occupancy for a jail cell at two inmates by ordering that mattresses on the floor could only be used overnight. This capped the average daily population (ADP) at 92 prisoners. At the moment the ADP is about 120 well above the cap. The BOS was ordered to transport prisoners they did not do it to save money which is what they now claim.

2) Jail alternative have been in use for the past 30 to 35 years. There are about 2000 individuals under the jurisdiction of the court or the parole board in Johnson County only about 6% are in jail. Iowa has had a program of Community Based Correction since the 1970s and supervised pretrial release, release on bond and release on recognizance are used extensively for pretrial. Probation, work release from jail (or residential work release at Hope House) and home detention (electronic monitoring (EM)) are used for sentenced persons.
3) Last year I did a study of home detention and found that 97% of those who applied were approved and the vast majority completed their sentence successfully. From the point of view of the prisoners EM is an unattractive option. Work release from jail is a much more attractive option and as a consequence very few apply for EM. One problem is that it is too costly but even if that barrier was removed work release is still a better option from the jail inmates point of view. Work release means they can keep their job, support their family and have income they need to pay fines and lawyers.
4) If you build a jail with the idea of expanding later you have to specify the maximum size so the jail infrastructure is properly sized. If you want to expand a 250 bed jail to 450 it would cost an extra 15% and if you do not provide the needed infrastructure the extra costs will be at least 50%.
The failure modes are a) a jail that is too small and the consequences are that you have to pay to house the overflow elsewhere and spend extra money on new construction. b) a jail that is too large which means you can lease beds to other counties that have jails that are too small and earn income.

Obviously the consultants will argue the larger the maximum size of the jail the better.

John Neff said...

FYI
The jail cells in the jail have an area of 75 square feet and the Federal standard that was adopted shortly aver the jail was built was 80 square feet for double occupancy. We are operating under the nonconforming use clause.

For several years we had three persons in a cell one on a mattress so they had 25 square feet per occupant under those conditions. As a consequence we had a large rate of inmate-imate assaults and inmate-staff assaults a number resulting in injury (no deaths fortunately).

At the present time the Federal courts are setting the space limit at about 60 square feet per inmate. If that limit is adopted it will have a major impact on the cost of jail and prison construction.