Human Rights Does Humane Thing

[Source: “Human Rights Does Humane Thing,” John Deeth Blog, 20 March 2013]

Jail opponent Jeff Cox’s attempt to get the Iowa City Human Rights Commission to oppose the May 7 justice center referendum backfired when the commission voted not to take a stance.

Indeed, at least one member seemed inclined toward the yes position:

Commission member Shams Ghoneim said she could not support the proposal not to take a stance on the justice center, citing the human rights concerns she has for those currently being housed in the Johnson County Jail.

“I think it’s important to address the issue of human rights violations we are currently witnessing,” she said.

A few key paragraphs pop out in Lee Hermiston’s Press-Citizen story:

Justice center opponent Bob Thompson told the commission he wasn’t completely against the justice center, but he wanted to see more alternatives to incarceration.

“I’m not opposed to the justice center, per se, and a lot of us on the vote no side aren’t,” Thompson said. “What we want are alternatives.”

Jim McCarragher said the CJCC has identified numerous jail alternatives that can’t be implemented without additional space.

“You know what we’re talking about with space, it just isn’t there,” he said. “I get the feeling we’re being held hostage. You can’t do it now. You can’t do it today. You can’t do it tomorrow.”

So. Pretty much open acknowledgement on both sides that the the no side is, plain and simple, a protest vote. Nothing wrong with that, I’ve cast a few of those in my life. But the time for that protest vote is this fall when we can toss Terry Dickens, Susan Mims and Connie Champion out of office for failing to improve the behavior of the Iowa City Police Department, the real source of the disproportionate minority contact problem.

Dorothy Whiston said the conditions in the current jail — the lack of space, programming and housing some inmates outside of the county — equates to “human rights abuse.” She urged the commission to pressure Iowa City to participate in a study the county is exploring that would study disproportionate minority contact throughout the local criminal justice center and identify solutions to those issues.

“Participating in a study” would be nice. But that rhetoric from the Yes side is too mild. Maybe responsible committee members can’t be as to the point as I can.

The minority arrest rate problem is a CITY problem, and to a large extent the student arrest rate is a city problem. The current council majority kinda sorta wants the justice center, but not nearly as bad as they (and, sadly, their Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students voter base) want the downtown crackdown. The courts and the county are left to pick up the pieces, and without the space they don’t have the tools they need.


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