Debate heating up over Johnson County Justice Center vote

[Source: “Debate heating up over Johnson County Justice Center vote,” Press Citizen, 24 April 2013]

With just two weeks until Johnson County voters head back to the polls, the county’s justice center debate is heating up.

Johnson County residents will vote May 7 on a $43.5 million bond issue to pay for the building. Plans for the justice center include a new 195-bed jail and courtrooms. The facility would be located just behind the existing county courthouse.

The signs and the pamphlets around a room inside Hotel Vetro made it clear during an educational forum Tuesday night: The “Vote No New Jail” group had one goal.

“Obviously to defeat the proposal,” said Bob Thompson, a panelist with the Vote No group.

Panelists shared ideas on why voters should not approve the current justice center plan.

“If it continues, what they are proposing is going to be full again probably in a few years,” Thompson said. “What they need is more alternatives.”

Speakers spent Tuesday night sharing some of those alternatives. Most believe there should be more attention spent on how to reduce the jail population instead of making more space for more inmates.

“I support building a smaller new jail,” said Jeff Dox, another panelist for the Vote No group. “That’s my personal view. Other people have different views. I don’t think we should expand the number of people in the jail.”

Updated renderings of the proposed Johnson County Justice Center. (Nuemann Monson)

Updated renderings of the proposed Johnson County Justice Center. (Nuemann Monson)

But sprinkled in the crowd, a few “Vote Yes” campaign members also sat through the forum. They said the justice center is vital for more space and programming.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re giving the best to defendants and making sure that those folks who find themselves in there, incarcerated, aren’t being shipped out to other counties but are staying here to keep the system efficient to save tax dollars,” said Scott McKeag, campaign director for Vote Yes for Justice.

The county pays to transport inmates to other jails because of the lack of space in Johnson County.

Regardless of differing views, county supervisor Terrence Neuzil said the issue wouldn’t go away any time soon.

“If we have strike two, my hunch is that we’ll be right at the plate again, asking voters for some assistance in dealing with the issue,” Neuzil said.

The last vote on the project was held in November, when a slightly larger proposal was narrowly rejected by voters. Since then, county leaders have downsized the project plans and reduced the cost.

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