Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Criminal Justice in CA Mapped: 2009-2010

The California Sentencing Institute, an initiative of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, has a new interactive map tool distinguishing all of California's counties based on incarceration rates, felony admissions, mental health rates, arrest rates, poverty rates, and numerous other important statistics, for 2009 and 2010. I strongly advise checking it out; they have tabs for adults and for juveniles, and they have filters by offense. It's very useful information, even though I very much hope they plan to extend it to 2011, 2012 and beyond so we can see the effects of realignment. Here's just one to whet your appetite - state prison population per 100,000 adults, broken down by county:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Less Prison, Less Crime: SF Does Things Right

This evening I attended a town hall event with Senator Mark Leno and other guests. The event focused on criminal justice reform in California, but most of the time was spent discussing San Francisco's policies and practices. It was, for the most part, a happy occasion, with plenty of opportunity to celebrate San Francisco's sensible approach to law enforcement and corrections.

Senator Leno opened by giving some historical background. Ten years ago, when he started chairing the Public Safety Committee on the Assembly, California was spending 5.3% of its budget on corrections. That rose to 11% pre-realignment. But we've turned a corner. In 2014, this figure will be lowered to 7%. And, despite not incarcerating as many people (actually, being the county that incarcerates the least amount of people!), San Francisco is experiencing record low rates of violent crime. How are we doing this without recurring to mass incarceration?

There are a few things that are in the works. The unsuccessful attempt to reclassify simple possession, a misdemeanor, as an infraction, might be resuscitated. We're beginning to make use of medical parole (trying to save $150 million dollars spent on health costs and security costs involving treatment of inmates who can't take care of their basic needs, some of whom are actually comatose.)

The main achievement has been the enactment of SB 678, the counterpart to AB 109, which creates community corrections. Shifting the responsibility for the post-sentence phase to the counties was accompanied by a shift in approach. Wendy Still, the Chief Probational Officer, spoke of her 26 years of experience in corrections and of moving to the counties to make a difference before people come to state prison. New admissions to prison are now down 37% statewide, and 47% in San Francisco, which always held the lowest prison rates and has reduced them now even further. The probationers, now addressed as clients, are no longer perceived to require surveillance and supervision, but rather services to help them get their lives on track. The system of incentives has been modified so that reduction in recidivism makes a difference. The money that counties received upfront to set up SB 678 - $45 million in federal stimulus grants - yielded &180 in correctional savings.

David Onek from UC Berkeley's center on criminal justice mentioned the unique nature of San Francisco's criminal justice apparatus and the remarkable collaboration between its different agencies. While it is, he said, too early for a realignment report card, it seems that San Francisco was well ahead of the curve for a long time.

Jeff Adachi talked about the work that still needed doing: Fixing the racial disparity in San Francisco's correctional institutions and seriously improving our reentry services. One measure taken toward the latter is Clean Slate, which helps folks with convictions start anew and put their lives on track.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said that San Francisco jails are remarkable in that they are undercrowded. He also spoke of his wish to be the first sheriff to request less beds, or to rebuild dilapidated institutions with less beds than they had in the first place.

Commander John Murphy of the SFPD talked about the collaboration between the city's different agencies, and of the effective reduction in violent crime (16% less shootings.) The focus is on Anthony Braga's hot spots - apparently, 50% of all violent crime in the city happens in 2% of its geographical area, which allows the police to focus their efforts in this area, involve community organizations, and shift the attention away from low-level drug offending (arrests for drug offenses have gone down from 50-100 a day to less than 10.)

It was a self-congratulatory evening, but rightly so; San Francisco has much to take pride in. And, as a side note, it was rather delightful to see a large contingent of the awesome United Playaz in the audience. So glad to see young people politically involved.

Inside the Belly of the Beast: Correctional Corporation of America and the Recession

Much of what we've written about this year has to do with the scaling back of the punitive project because it has become financially unsustainable. We have come to call that process humonetarianism, and support it, with some reservations, as a practical platform for reform. But not all post-recession policymaking has been about reversing the punitive pendulum. Some of it is about increasing profits.

The main, but not by any means the only, beneficiary of these lean times, is Correctional Corporation of America, the largest non-governmental prison operator in the nation. Its shares are traded publicly, at $9 per share, and, while it is organized as a traditional for-profit corporation ("C-corporation") it is examining the possibility of reorganizing as a Real Estate Investment Trust, which will mean special tax considerations and high yields for investors.

CCA institutions - of which it operates 67 and owns 49 - are located in 20 states and in DC (6 of their institutions are, at this point, vacant). After an initial period of time, population in its private institutions averages 89%. A minimum occupancy is often, albeit not always, mentioned in its contracts with the states to whom it provides services. The business model is structured around the concept of a "per-diem", that is, the state pays a price per-inmate-per-bed-per-day. This is the average per-diem for all facilities (you'll note differences in price, which stem from the fact that CCA-owned and managed facilities imply facility costs that CCA needs to pay even if it stays vacant):

06/12 – 09/12
06/11 – 09/11
01/12 – 09/12
01/11 – 09/11
FY 2011
FY 2010
Combined Per Diem Averages, All Facilities
Operating Margin
$17.85 (30.2%)
$18.11 (30.9%)
$18.33 (31.3%)
$18.20 (31.2%)
Owned and Managed Facilities
Operating Margin
$23.19 (34.5%)
$23.68 (35.6%)
$22.77 (33.9%)
$24.04 (36.1%)
Managed Only Facilities
Operating Margin
$5.32 (13.2%)
$5.48 (13.5%)
$4.56 (11.3%)
$6.00 (14.7%)
$5.34 (13.2%)

Who are CCA's main customers? Well, the federal government, for one. Revenues from federal clients comprise 43% of CCA's total revenue for the years 2010 and 2011. But of the states that contract with CCA, California is a major contributor, providing CCA with 13% of its management revenue. 

How can that be, you might ask? After all, CCA does not have institutions in California, right? After all, CCPOA flexed its union muscles to drive CCA out of California. Well, that is true. California houses its inmates in institutions outside the state: La Palma and Red Rock in Arizona, Tallahatchie County in Mississippi, and North Fork in Oklahoma. Similarly, Hawai'ian inmates are housed in two CCA institutions: Red Rock and Saguaro, both in Arizona. Here's a promotional video in which CCA promotes Saguaro as an institution "uniquely fitted to Hawai'i inmates' needs". You will, of course, immediately note the savings pitch:

The story appears much less rosier in this newspaper article about how women inmates from Hawai'i fared at a CCA institution in Kentucky.

CCA is doing very well. As of the close of the market on Nov. 9, 2012, its stock was trading at $33.67 per share. With 100.05 million shares outstanding, the market cap sits at 3.37 billion dollars. It is considered slightly less risky than market, but riskier than industry average. CCA's CEO and Predisent, earned $3,696,789 in basic compensation. The salaries of other high-ranked corporate officers are also impressive, and have risen considerably between 2010 and 2011. Its income, as per the following table, has increased dramatically since 2001. 

FY ending Dec. 31
Net Income
No. facilities Owned and Managed
No. Managed Only
No. Leased to Third Party Operators

$ 150,941


Despite a slight decline in occupancy (from 95% occupancy in 2005 to 89% occupancy in 2012), the overall number of beds CCA has and leases to states has increased, which explains the increase in income. 

CCA procures political good will through extensive donations and lobbying. Between 2003 and 2012, it contributed $2,161, 004 to political campaigns and ballot measures. Like CCPOA, CCA donates to both Republican and Democrat candidates (albeit twice as much to the former than to the latter.) Its main arena of contribution is California. where among other propositions it supported 2008 Prop 6 (the policing and anti-gang measure that eventually failed to pass.) CCA also contributed to 239 different lobbyists between 2003 and 2011, for a grand total of $1,858, 094. The most lobbyists were active in California - 16 of them. 

Recently, in light of the need for California to comply with the Plata decision, CCA and the state of California modified their contractual agreement, with the state planning to return its inmates from out-of-state institutions. CCA's concern about this was explicitly discussed in their 10-Q for the third quarter of 2012, yielding the following gems:
It is unclear at this time how realignment or the five-year plan may impact the long-term utilization by the CDCR of our out of state beds. The return of the California inmates to the state of California would have a significant adverse impact on our financial position, results of operations, and cash flows. We housed approximately 8,700 inmates from the state of California as of September 30, 2012, compared with approximately 9,500 California inmates as of September 30, 2011. Approximately 12% and 13% of our management revenue for the nine months ended September 30, 2012 and 2011, respectively, was generated from the CDCR. (p.35)

And also,

“[W]e expect insufficient bed development by our partners to result in a return to the supply and demand imbalance that has benefited the private corrections industry.” (10-Q, p.30)

I expect these data provides some initial information on the main beneficiaries from the recession, and explains some of the incarceration trends we have seen since the financial crisis. More to come.

Many thanks to Amanda Leaf for her valuable and meticulous research assistance.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Elections 2012: Government is Local

Yesterday's election results elicited happiness from many quarters. President Obama begins his second term confronted with serious economic issues, but aided by a senate that includes more women than ever, including Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin, a testament to the growing power of women and minorities in shaping our collective future. Same-sex marriage has been approved by a popular vote for the first time, and an amendment to the contrary was defeated. More pertinent to the topic of this blog, recreational marijuana has been legalized in Washington and Colorado (though the meaning of this, in light of the continuing federal policy to outlaw the substance, remains to be fleshed out.)

And in California, mixed results on criminal justice matters. Prop 36 passed by a landslide and elicited gratitude from non-violent Third Strikers who are to be resentenced now. As we said before the election, this revision of Three Strikes is fairly modest; it does not change the possibility of simultaneous strikes or the punishment for Second Strikers. The original ambition to repeal this extreme punitive measure was significantly scaled back, though what we have is a good start and offers hope to thousands of people whose hopelessly disproportionate sentences will be shortened.

Much to my disappointment, Prop 34 fell 500,000 voters short from passing. The landmark achievement of a significant decrease in Californians' traditional support for the death penalty notwithstanding, the death penalty remains, despite the serious arguments for its dysfunction.

And Prop 35, a traditional hodge-podge of punitive measures disguised as a victims' rights measure, passed as well. As I expected, part of the proposition, which involved unenforceable and overbroad registration requirements for sex offenders, is already raising constitutional questions.

All of this has made me think about broader patterns in California compared to other states. Think of the passage of Prop 8 in 2008 and compare it to the passage of same-sex marriage amendments in various other states in 2012. Think of our failure to pass Prop 19 in 2010 and compare it to the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado in 2012. And think of our failure to pass Prop 34 and compare it to the abolition of the death penalty in numerous states over the course of the last few years. What is wrong in California? Why do the wheels of progress turn so slowly here?

Vanessa Barker's The Politics of Imprisonment provides a good guideline. Barker argues that crime, and criminal justice, are ultimately experienced on the local level, and that the local political climate of a state has much to do with its administration of criminal justice and imprisonment. In the book, she compares California, Washington, and New York, demonstrating how punishment has taken different forms in the three states that correspond to their traditions and practices of government. Barker sees California as a neopopulist, deeply polarized state, yielding simplistic, black-and-white divisions on punishment because of the voter initiative system. The post Prop-13 political realities of California make it incredibly difficult to move through budgetary changes. Voter initiatives, which are the only way to get through the legislative deadlock, have to present complicated issues as yay/nay questions, impeding serious, impassioned discussions of fact, rather than values, stereotypes and beliefs. And in a climate such as this, even rational facts and figures about costs, which by all right should be nonpartisan matters, become secondary to fear, hate and alienation. It is one of the deepest contradictions of this beautiful state: Hailed as a blue bastion of progress, but cursed with an overburdened, cruel correctional system akin to that of Southern states.

Maybe, like with same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, we have to wait until more states abolish the death penalty, and the next state to do so by voter initiative may not be California. But with a Democrat supermajority in the legislature, we may be able to get over the traditional deadlock and get some things done. My hope that the cost argument would transverse the political divide is not entirely lost, but it is deeply shaken. I still think that the economic argument is incredibly powerful, and attribute the recent successes in marijuana legalization to scarce resources and cost-benefit analysis, among other things. But one cannot ignore the important variable of local government style and tradition in assessing the ability to change the correctional landscape in important ways.

On a more personal note: Many blog readers that have met me in the course of this campaign know how much of my time and persuasive energy I put into the Yes on 34 campaign. I still think that abolition is not impossible and that I will live to see the day in which the United States will join the civilized world in ridding itself of this barbaric punishment method. I still think that, in my lifetime, there will be a time in which we start questioning not only the death penalty, but also life without parole, solitary confinement, racialized segregation practices, and our approach toward juvenile justice. I plan to continue being here and fighting for this important reforms. Because I desperately want the dawn to come.

"But when the dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret."
           --Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country

Many thanks to Chad Goerzen, Francisco Hulse, Jamie Rowen, Aatish Salvi, and Bill Ward, for the conversations that inspired this post.

Friday, November 2, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Prop 34 Leading in Polls

The Chron reports:

A ballot measure to repeal California's death penalty and replace it with life in prison without parole has gained support in the last week and leads by 45 to 38 percent among likely voters in the final Field Poll before Tuesday's election. 

The poll, conducted Oct. 25-30, was the first to show a lead for Proposition 34, which had trailed 42 to 45 percent in the last survey in mid-September. Polling also found that a majority agreed with one of Prop. 34's major premises - that the death penalty is more expensive than life without parole - and a plurality said innocent people are executed "too often." 

Some other recent statewide polls have reported Prop. 34 trailing by as much as seven percentage points. But Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said his organization's new survey was more up-to-date and found that the measure's margin of support had widened by six percentage points in a single week. 

Next week, vote with the majority of Americans for justice that works. Yes on 34. No on 35. Yes on 36.