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State Auditor Flunks California DOC For Failure To Make Prison Population Projections

In a March 2007 Letter Report to California's Governor and Legislature, State Auditor Elaine Howell reported that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had failed to make meaningful progress in devising accurate prisoner population projections for California. Such projections are of paramount importance because they seriously impact CDCR's now $10.1 billion annual budget. The joint Legislative Audit Subcommittee had requested in 2005 that CDCR get a handle on its statistical projections, but the new Report shows that no real progress has been made.

CDCR claimed that it needed to first devise a newer Inmate Classification Scoring System (ICSS) to establish a data base for projections, yet had been unable to do so. It projected completion of such a data base by October 2007.

But the Auditor had requested more. She wanted CDCR to utilize expert statisticians to perform this complex mathematical work. CDCR asserted that it had looked in Sacramento at the California State University (CSU) and determined that because CSU did not offer courses in applied mathematics, it was presumptively unqualified in statistics. (As any mathematician knows, applied mathematics is far from being synonymous with statistics.) The Auditor determined that CDCR had failed, however, to contact anyone in CSU's Department of Mathematics and Statistics to find out if it could aid in developing the needed projection model.

But it gets worse. When CDCR queried the vaunted University of California at Davis (UCD) for aid, UCD declined to assist because they had done so once before, and were miffed that CDCR did not like their projections because they were too low. [Note: CDCR's politically driven "prison model" is pegged to continually increasing cost projections divined to satisfy union pressures for ever more money; hence, any "slowdown" is unacceptable.] The responding UCD professor explained unabashedly that CDCR "did not want unbiased expert advice."

Undeterred, the Auditor did her own search for experts. A statistics expert from CSU Sacramento opined that "(CDCR] needs to bring a group of statisticians together to get advice on establishing a statistically valid forecasting methodology with the correct data system. A time series specialist, a non- parametric statistician, and a finite population sampling theorist along with a statistical computing expert will be able to design a suitable forecasting tool for the department's needs." The expert further noted that these assets were within both the CSU and University of California faculties.

Instead, CDCR looked outside to Ohio State University to contract for the desired statistical modeling. This effort was in process as of October 23, 2006, but no contract had been signed by March 9, 2007 because CDCR and Ohio State could not reach agreement on contract clauses regarding indemnification and adjudication. CDCR told the Auditor that if CDCR cannot agree with Ohio State, they will proceed to find an expert using a sole-source contract or competitive bidding. Of course, any statistical modeling hinges on the development of the data base that is grounded in the new ICSS. Not lost on the Auditor was the fact that the latter had not been started, but that CDCR only "planned" to hire one retired annuitant (former CDCR staffer] in the Spring of 2007 to complete this task by October 1, 2007.

The status, then, was that even though past projections had proven woefully inadequate (30% error rate), CDCR couldn't hire a statistics modeling expert and even if it could, that expert would be without an up-to-date data base unless and until one solitary rehire came on board and completed that task within six months. Meanwhile, California -- desperately trying to avoid the federal courts placing population caps on its prison system due to severe overcrowding and unconstitutionally inadequate medical care -- hastily enacted (Assembly Bill 900) $7.4 billion for emergency construction of more beds in prison and county jails by the year 2014 to handle a population it is unable to project.
And the crux of that two-phase building program is that in phase one, CDCR must first determine the effectiveness of the simultaneously enacted rehabilitation programs that are designed to reduce bed needs.
Sadly, one projection that has been made is that California will be spending more on prisons than on higher education within five years. See: California State Auditor Letter Report 2007-503 (March 27, 2007).

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