April 28, 2012

California Sheriff to Open Inmate Auto Shop

THE TEHAMA County Sheriff, Dave Hencratt, is trying to deal with the burden of increased jail population due to state prison realignment in Assembly Bill 109.

AB109, which took effect in October, sent some low-level offenders who would have gone on parole, from state prisons to county probation jurisdiction, and rewrote the laws so new low-level offenders would be sentenced to county jail instead of prison.

With an increased inmate population, Sheriff Hencratt needed to save space and money in the jail.

His idea?

Start a county vehicle maintenance shop where 70 inmates, who spend nights at their homes, could learn auto repair and maintenance skills.

The California Corrections Partnership thought his idea was solid and they gave roughly $45,000, mostly in startup costs, to create the work release program. Offenders who qualify for the program would be eligible to train in fields such as auto detailing, oil changes, changing tires and other minor vehicle maintenance duties.

The Sheriff figure he can keep 12 guys very busy, everyday.

Eventually the job training program could include certifications of completion for participants who successfully work through each skill or training portion. The participants would be supervised by a deputy with experience in mechanics and vehicle maintenance. All major vehicle repair work would still be done by certified mechanics but the routine maintenance done by the work release inmates would save the department money.

Bottom line - this creative program helps with Tehama County's jail overcrowding, it saves the county money and in the long term it may reduce recidivism because it gives inmates a job skill which could be used to land real employment.

Read more here >

April 23, 2012

YouTube Testimony

I HAD the occasion this weekend to visit the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors website (http://bit.ly/hTy3wC) because I was looking for information that was presented at a particular meeting. I found a memorandum from the County Manager’s office on the subject I was looking for but there was no video archive of the actual hearing.

Without that video archive, I couldn’t hear what members of the board had to say about the issue nor could I benefit from listening to what the people who showed up at the meeting had to say.

That got me thinking.

The system that’s used at Board meetings is most likely similar to the one that was in place in 1856 when the county was formed. People who wanted to address the board filled out slips of paper and turned them in. When called to speak, a person was given two minutes to make their case.

That process was OK in the 19th Century but what would a 21st Century board process look like? How could technology change the way we do things? How could the hearing process be more open?  

What if...
...all Board of Supervisors meetings were streamed live over the Internet?
...all Board of Supervisors meetings were archived immediately following the meeting?
...the Board of Supervisors allowed people to submit comments and testimonies on YouTube?   

Board meetings are held on Tuesdays during the day when many people work, are at school or taking care of their families. That kind of scheduling potentially excludes people from sharing their views on a particular matter before the Board.

Permitting YouTube testimony would mean that even if you were busy at the time of the hearing and couldn’t physically be there - you could still have your voice heard.  

Sure.  There would have to be rules. Regular testimony is limited to two minutes; YouTube testimony would have to be the same. And, there could be rules that would help make testimony more civil - like no profanity, for example.

Maybe more voices, more openness and more democracy would make county government more efficient and more responsive? It definitely would help make it more inclusive and more participatory.

Although not everyone has Internet access (although the vast majority do) and many may not  know how to make a YouTube video (but there could be an instructional video online),  I think it’s a step in the right direction.  Let’s use technology to open up government.

What do you think?

April 22, 2012

San Francisco Puts Brakes on an App for Transit

IF ALL goes according to the five-year plan approved by the Board of Supervisors, the city and county of San Francisco will upgrade its technology infrastructure to accommodate such trendy things as social networks, cloud computing, crowd-sourcing, open-source software and location-aware apps. But by then it will be 2016, or more than 10 product cycles by Silicon Valley standards.

Meanwhile, a small team of volunteers took just 10 days last summer to create an Apple iPad app that uses Global Positioning System technology to track all of the city's buses in real time, allowing transit managers and passengers to monitor problems and delays.

But now, 10 months later, the app is unused. Muni is $29 million over budget and can't afford to buy the iPads required to run the software.

According to the article, government cannot keep up with the rapid technology advancements that consumers are accustomed to because despite cost savings that agile projects like SMART Muni can offer, government officials are adverse to the risks that many tech companies routinely take.

Read more of Shane Shifflett's article in the NY Times here >

April 21, 2012

Just for Fun - Watch This Video

HAVE SOME fun today, Saturday, and watch this video. It might make you smile. It's only 1:46 in length.