Law & Power

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The Battleground States: Where It All Goes Down

Includes maps and videos

Watch Map Center: What If the Battleground States Go Red? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Because nearly every state in the nation has a winner-take-all presidential electoral system (except Nebraska and Maine), the outcome on election day in most states is fairly predictable. No Republican presidential candidate, for instance, has won California since 1988, and there’s no sign of that trend changing anytime soon. So it wouldn’t be the smartest move to put your money on Mitt Romney here.

Likewise, Texas hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976. So Barack Obama’s chances of winning over the Longhorn State this election? Pretty slim.

Of course, on the rare occasion there have been some monumental upsets. Take Indiana, which hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, but in 2008 picked Obama (albeit narrowly and ephemerally: the state is back to it’s solid red roots this year).

The majority of the presidential race is downright predictable.

So where’s the suspense? Where’s the action? Continue reading

Three Awesome Infographics On America’s Abstract Electoral System

Elections aren’t supposed to be super complicated. But they are. And if you feel like you still need a diagram to figure out our electoral process, here are two good ones to get you started (created independently and shared on the site visual.ly). Click on the first one to see it full size.

Six Great Sites for Teaching the Business of Elections

Includes lots of multimedia resource links

What’s the electoral college, who are delegates, and why in the heck do we vote on Tuesday?

National elections, especially presidential ones, offer great teaching moments. But explaining the basic mechanics of America’s ever confusing electoral system can be daunting, especially for students who lack a basic understanding of the process.

Fortunately, there are a ton of great free digital resources out there to help your students demystify the process, using pretty engaging and creative formats. Of course, finding them entails the equally daunting task of spending hours online in search of the best unbiased content out there.

So, with that in mind, rather than adding to the cyber-pile, I’ve compiled a list of six excellent sites that do a good job in driving home basic election concepts, and, hopefully, encouraging your students to think critically about the process (rather than just learning about it as a given). This is by no means a comprehensive list (a good longer list can be found at the National Writing Project’s site), so if you have additional suggestions, please share in the comment box below. Continue reading

Should the Voting Age Be Lowered?

Flickr/Liz the Librarian

American youth under 18 years old live under the same laws as adults. They pay sales taxes (every time they buy something). And some can even work jobs and get drivers licenses.

But … they can’t vote.

And that’s just not fair, say a growing number of student rights groups across the country that are lobbying to have the voting age lowered to at least 16. Continue reading

Who Do We Lock Up? Four Key Characteristics of Cal’s Prison Population

Includes: interactive charts and maps

Who’s actually behind bars in California? Here are four key characteristics of California’s prison population:

Geography

The majority of inmates come from the southern part of the state. A whopping 50,000 – or 34 percent of all prisoners – come from Los Angeles County alone. But the highest incarceration rates are concentrated in poorer counties in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. Leading the charge is Kings County in the San Joaquin Valley, where nearly 1 percent of the entire population is in state prison.

Click on the map below for info on the number of prisoners who come from each county in California, what percent of the prison population each county contributes, and what percent of each county’s total population is in prison.

Source: CDCR 2011 data

Race

The majority of prisoners are non-white. The largest group is Hispanic. But African Americans – who make up less than 7 percent of the general population and almost 30 percent of the prison population – are dramatically more likely to be imprisoned than any other group.

prison stats

Source: Public Policy Institute of California (using 2010 CDCR and 2010 Census data)

 

Age

The prison population is aging. Currently nearly 20 percent of inmates are age 50 and up, about quadruple the rate from 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the percent of prisoners under age 25 has steadily dropped.

Source: CDCR 2010 data

Gender

California’s prison population is overwhelmingly male. Men make up nearly 95 percent of all inmates. 30 of the system’s 33 facilities are for men.

Source: CDCR 2010 data

California’s 33 State Prisons (and the people inside them): An Interactive Map

As of August 15, 2012, California’s 33 prisons (30 for men, 3 for women) held about 120,000 inmates. That’s a lot of people behind bars, for sure, but it’s also a pretty significant drop from the year before, when there were roughly 27,000 more prisoners in the system. Today, most of the state’s prisons still remain overcrowded – about 150 percent above intended capacity – but progress has undoubtedly been made in thinning out the ranks. California no longer has the largest prison system in the country (things really are bigger in Texas). And it can almost entirely be attributed to the state’s public safety realignment program, which was put into effect last October with the goal of reducing the inmate population by about 33,000 within two years.

Mouse over the map below for information about each prison in California’s system, the current number of inmates, the change in population since realignment began, and each facility’s intended design capacity. Note that marker size is relative to the current inmate population in each prison. (It may be necessary to adjust the map zoom in to see specific details.)
Data source: California Department of Corrections

Realignment Explained

Last October California began a dramatic overhaul of its severely overcrowded prison system. Assembly Bill 109 – known as realignment – had the objective of shedding more than 30,000 inmates from in-state prisons and significantly cutting the prison budget. At the time the law took effect, there were more than 143,000 inmates behind bars in California’s 33 prisons. That’s almost twice the system’s design capacity. Meanwhile, California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation received about $10 billion a year from the state’s thinning general fund – over 11 percent of last year’s entire spending plan, more than was spent on the University of California and California State University systems combined. Continue reading

Is California’s Prison Realignment Experiment Working?

Depends whom you ask (real helpful, huh?).

On the one hand, the state has significantly reduced its prison population since realignment went into effect last October. At the end of September 2011, there were 144,456 inmates in the state’s 33 prisons, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (Note: that does not represent California’s total prison population, which also includes prisoners in in-state and out-of-state private facilities, and those in work camps).

California’s 33 prisons are designed to hold about 80,000 prisoners (based on one inmate/cell). So at the start of realignment, the prisons were at about 180% overcapacity. Continue reading

Shouldering the Burden: California’s New Jail Boom (interactive map)

California’s realignment process has resulted in many more new low-level offenders placed under county supervision rather than being put in the state prison system. Although the overall jail population has not changed significantly, many counties across the state have experienced a significant increase in their local sentenced inmate populations.

Click on each county below for average jail population rates of sentenced inmates between the third quarter of 2011 (before realignment began) and the first quarter of 2012.

jail legend

Data Source: California Board of State and Community Corrections

Oh No He Didn’t! Wait, But What Does GDP per Capita Actually Mean?

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

During his recent trip abroad, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney caused a political stir in Israel (among other places he went) when he said that “culture makes all the difference” in explaining the vast difference in GDP per capita between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

And it’s not hard to understand why Palestinians might have been a bit ticked off by the remark: it’s basically saying that you’d be more financially successful if you changed your lifestyle. Harder to grasp, though, is the economic concept that Romney used in his comparison.

GDP per capita: One of those terms journalists and politicos throw out there as though it was something that normal humans conversed about at the dinner table. But what does it actually mean? And how is it relevant – or not – in determining a country’s well-being?

Put simply, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one (of many) ways to measure a nation’s income and level of productivity. The textbook definition will tell you: it’s the the market value of all goods and services that a country produces in a given period of time (generally a year).

In normal speak: it’s all the (legal) things that are produced and sold in a country, and all the wages and profits that are earned. Basically, an indicator of economic health and wellness.

GDP per capita, then, is the total GDP value divided by the number of people who live in that country.

So, for instance, let’s imagine your family’s house is a nation unto itself (work with me here): your dad’s a carpenter and makes, say, $50,000 a year selling his furniture. Your mom’s a lawyer and makes a salary of $70,000/year. You, however, are still in school and not working and thus, not making any income (freeloader!). So, the GDP of your household would be the sum of all those incomes: $120,000.

The GDP per capita, then, would be $120,000 divided by the number of people under your roof – the three of you. So … GDP per capita = $40,000.

GDP per capita is often used as a rough estimation of a nation’s general standard of living; the higher the GDP, the higher that standard. Of course, just looking at that figure alone can be pretty misleading, especially if there’s a lot wealth inequality within a particular country. Remember, that GDP per capita is just an average – it’s the income of a representative individual in a given country.

Take the United States, for instance: GDP per capita here is one of the highest in the world. And although the overall standard of living here is pretty high compared to a lot of other countries, there are also a lot of Americans who live in poverty.

Check out this explanatory animation on GDP per capita (I know, I know –  it’s econ – but it’s kind of interesting!)