The Johnson County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee met on September 4, 2013 for a public meeting to explore jail and courthouse needs and solutions.
The following meeting resources are available.
Video. The following video recording is provided by a local group focused on criminal justice reform for Johnson County. Thanks goes to Aleksey Gurtovoy for his work in getting the meeting recorded and uploaded to YouTube.
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The following meeting minutes are copied from the PDF version found on the Johnson County website.
Chairperson Rettig called the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee to order in the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building at 4:35 p.m. Members present: Supervisors John Etheredge, Pat Harney, Terrence Neuzil, Janelle Rettig, and Rod Sullivan, Department of Corrections Supervisor Jerri Allen, MECCA Director Ron Berg, Iowa City Public Library Adult Service Coordinator Kara Logsden, County Attorney Janet Lyness, Bar Association Representative James McCarragher, District Court Judge Douglas S. Russell, Citizen Representative Professor Emeritus John Stratton, and Consultation of Religious Communities Representative Dorothy Whiston; Members Absent: Iowa City City Councilor Connie Champion, University of Iowa Student Representative Drew Lakin, State Public Defender’s Managing Attorney Peter Persaud, and County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek. Staff present: Board of Supervisors Executive Assistant Andy Johnson, MH/DS Director Kris Artley, Major Steve Dolezal, Captain Dave Wagner, and Deputy Auditor Nancy Tomkovicz.
INPUT FROM COMMITTEE REGARDING JAIL AND COURTHOUSE NEEDS/SOLUTIONS
Rettig said the Supervisors held a series of seven public input sessions throughout Johnson County in August. The online forum on the Johnson County website has thus far received 20 responses. The Supervisors asked the public how they would like to address pressing needs at the Courthouse and Jail.
Citizen Representative Professor Emeritus John Stratton said the Supervisors’ questions remind him of surveys he receives from the Democratic Party soliciting funds. It is very difficult to rank all of the pressing needs of the Courthouse and Jail in order of importance because they are all important. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC) has spent ten years prioritizing needs; he thinks the members of the CJCC and the employees who work in the Jail and Courthouse can answer these questions better than public surveys or discussions. He said criminal justice is just not a priority for most people but libraries and schools are.
Director Ron Berg said the highest priority is public and employee safety.
This concern should drive the discussion. Bar Association Representative James McCarragher said safety is a primary concern. The Courthouse is still not secure. He thinks the only way to secure the Courthouse is through construction of another structure whether adjacent to the Courthouse or elsewhere. He does not think moving the Courthouse to another location is the solution. He does not know how to get around the public’s negative opinion of the facility’s design and added that if they were to use the same stone as the current Courthouse, it would cost too much.
McCarragher said the campaign against the proposed justice center used information about criminal offenses to thwart safety. He said the best way to secure the Courthouse is to attach it to the Jail. The public is preoccupied with the movement to decriminalize marijuana, which will not eliminate the County’s need to relocate inmates because the Jail is out of space. Relocating inmates who have committed serious crimes puts County employees and residents at risk. The taxpayers can continue to pay to transport inmates to nearby counties, but that will not solve the security needs at the Courthouse. McCarragher said that separating the Jail and Courthouse would lose the previous votes for the collective justice center. The Courthouse is not secure. There are chronic conditions there that must be addressed now.
District Court Judge Douglas S. Russell said since the Board adjourned the CJCC for the summer, considerable discussion ensued among the judges and court administration employees. He said Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Grady requests a meeting with the Board to present details of the judiciary’s requests and priorities. Until Grady’s visit with the Board, Russell himself will not address the position of the judiciary as a stakeholder in the new justice center or courthouse. Rettig said the Board welcomes a visit from Grady and it has already proposed several meeting dates to Grady.
Rettig said at upcoming public input sessions, the Board would like to hear from various chiefs of police including the University of Iowa (UI) Department of Public Safety, city managers, city councils, mayors, and other members of government regarding the next possible steps for the Jail and Courthouse. The Board would also like to schedule another public input meeting with all five supervisors, and also a work session with the Board, County Attorney and County Sheriff to draw conclusions from public input and discussions. The Board would then summarize the collective meetings at a subsequent CJCC meeting.
CJCC members agreed to schedule the government input session for the afternoon of October 1st, and the public input session with all Board members for the evening of October 7th. Rettig said an open invitation will be extended to all area law enforcement, all city councils, all city managers, and all mayors. The Board will meet with Grady during a Thursday Board meeting. The Board proposed rescheduling the next CJCC to October 9th and is holding October 15th and 16th for a work session with Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek and County Attorney Janet Lyness.
Neuzil asked CJCC members and the consultants to prioritize features from the justice center proposal.
Consultation of Religious Communities Representative Dorothy Whiston said one of the conversations about needs and solutions should include not only safety but law enforcement and criminal justice, which is feeding the resistance to a new criminal justice center. There is a national movement to change the way the criminal justice system works. Whiston thinks Johnson County needs to be at the forefront of this movement while planning for changes to the county’s current facilities, whether the discussion involves disproportionate minority contact (DMC), the drug war, or other issues of local and national concern.
Rettig said criminal justice planning meetings have convened for ten years in Johnson County and Rettig has been on the Board for the last four. During her time on the Board, she has only seen one non-Sheriff law enforcement officer at only one of these meetings and she hopes more will show up on October 1st. Law enforcement needs to be on the receiving end of this discussion because the Sheriff’s Office does not arrest nearly that many people.
Rettig said the Coralville and Iowa City have flatly turned down an invitation to a joint meeting with Johnson County. The other cities in the county have met with the Board, but Coralville and Iowa City refuse to have any meeting with the County. She said Sullivan even tried to include two joint meetings per year in a contract with the cities but Coralville and Iowa City lawyers said no. The Board has no control over city police chiefs and their lack of participation shows their lack of concern.
Whiston said that lack of participation implies that the cities do not care about their inmates. Rettig said she agrees; no representative showed up to CJCC meetings or to any public discussion meetings. Whiston said the Board should invite the chiefs of police, law enforcement, and other government employees to the upcoming input sessions, and then, if they do not show up, inform the press they refuse to discuss criminal justice in Johnson County. They must be held accountable and be involved in solving these county-wide issues.
Whiston said Board and CJCC members need to directly ask the chiefs where they stand on how the criminal justice system operates in the county. The people most likely to support a justice center have real concerns about the criminal justice system in the country and in Johnson County. This collective conversation needed to happen between the last two bond referendum elections and it did not.
Sullivan said he is inclined to agree with Whiston but thinks the Board needs to be more specific. For example, he suggested going to the southeast side of Iowa City for a discussion on DMC. They could also specifically address marijuana. Whiston replied DMC is a county-wide issue. The problem is with continued public misunderstanding, petty drug charges and alcohol enforcement, and lack of support for current police practices.
Rettig said at least one person changed their mind last night when the Iowa City Council voted five to two to create another level of criminal poverty. The City Council does not care. Whiston said she thinks if the CJCC made a public statement against the proposed Iowa City ordinance, which that city officials say will curb inappropriate behavior on the downtown pedestrian mall, and provide a forum for people to tell the electorate not to vote for the proposed ordinance, they would be doing a favor for Iowa City, the County, and the general public. Whiston said several people at one of the forums against the justice center said they would not vote for the proposed justice center and trust the County would address DMC afterwards. She thinks the range of policing priorities in the community is a separate, unrelated concern.
Lyness said she does not think the CJCC needs to research issues of DMC any longer because very recent studies are now available and it should be made available to Iowa City. She thinks this timeline of meetings is pretty optimistic and the CJCC will not reach a solution by the end of October, so she is interested in letting current groups, such as the Iowa City ad-hoc Diversity Committee and the Juvenile Justice Youth Development Program (JJYD), work on concerns like DMC.
Whiston said the information regarding DMC for adult justice is not readily available. It is available for juveniles because of federal mandates. The County needs to do some sort of an equity-impact analysis. Rettig said she does not think the Board and CJCC will have a solution by the end of October or anything to put on a ballot. This timeline is set up because the Board needs direction before budget meetings begin in November. The Board must determine whether to commit two million dollars to fix the problems in Jail.
Rettig said on October 1st, all public officials, including UI Public Safety and UI President Sally Mason, are invited to address the Board at a public meeting. On October 7th, all government officials are asked to sit with the Board to receive comments from the public at a public meeting.
Harney said he thinks all of these input sessions are great but it does not change the fact that the County is mandated to provide the Sheriff space for jail services. The County’s involvement will not resolve the current lack of space in the Jail and Courthouse. He said many of the issues must be addressed within the municipalities.
Whiston said most people do not differentiate between city law enforcement, County law enforcement, and the County Jail.
DISCUSSION REGARDING JAIL AND COURTHOUSE NEEDS/SOLUTIONS
Whiston asked whether any of the informal public input sessions were recorded. Rettig said yes. Board of Supervisors Executive Assistant Andy Johnson said the audio should be available on the website within the next day or two.
Lyness summarized the comments from three of the public sessions she attended. She said some people did not want to spend any money and some were concerned about DMC. A lot of people did not like the design and or the proposal placing the justice center behind the historic Courthouse. Some people thought the facility should be out of Iowa City and some insisted it should be in Iowa City. Some thought the Jail and Courthouse should be combined and others thought they should not. The most consistent comment was against the design. Rettig said she heard opinions stating the proposal was the right solution. Harney said others voiced concerns about how property tax increases would impact families on a limited income.
Alternatives and Treatments Subcommittee
- Lyness said due to scheduling conflicts this Subcommittee has not met recently.
Public Information and Outreach Subcommittee
- McCarragher said there is no new information to report.
- Harney said he, Lyness, and Pulkrabek met with the General Services Administration (GSA) representative, who he also spoke to on the phone with Neuzil and Lyness. The GSA wants to draft a contract for the County and submit a proposal to the Board with regards to the properties near the Courthouse.
Funding and Grants Subcommittee
- Rettig said the Subcommittee has received no requests for information and has therefore done nothing since the last meeting.
Rettig asked CJCC members whether these are the right committees, whether different committees should form, and whether the CJCC would like to take new applications from the public. Rettig said someone has asked her how to go about serving on one of the committees. Lyness said in the past, people who wanted to come to meetings submitted their email addresses for notification of meeting dates and times. Harney said at this juncture, new committee members may lack knowledge and the history committee members share. However, if other committees form to discuss these issues, then invite anyone.
Whiston recommended recruiting an official representative from each community within the county to serve on the CJCC. She thinks UI representatives should be involved in the CJCC, along with Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty, although she thinks it is nice to invite all the cities. Rettig said the Board will need to vote on such action, but she understands UI Student Representative Drew Lakin can no longer serve on the CJCC. Committee membership on the standing committees is informal and new people may show up anytime.
Harney said the law enforcement representative must be someone high in the chain of command since officers cannot speak for their respective departments. Rettig said Iowa City, University Heights, Coralville, North Liberty, and UI all have their own police departments. The Sheriff’s Office polices the rest of the cities.
Whiston said DMC discussion currently falls under the Alternatives and Treatments Subcommittee but it should be in the title of the subcommittee if it truly belongs in that particular area. Rettig said the Alternatives and Treatments Subcommittee should determine the new name and then inform the Board.
COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC
Caroline Dieterle said she strongly supports Whiston’s position. It is frustrating Iowans that people are incarcerated on marijuana charges when marijuana is now legal in other states for medical purposes. Dieterle said she wonders if the County Attorney has any discretion not to prosecute first time marijuana offenders. If the UI and Iowa City are not equal partners in the criminal justice system, could the Sheriff’s Office exercise any leeway in housing those persons elsewhere to reserve Jail space for only serious cases. Lyness said no matter where the inmates are housed, the County is required to pay.
Aleksey Gurtovoy said the County can instigate procedures to accomplish what it cannot accomplish financially. He suggested the County booking process be made an ordeal for the arresting officer. He thinks a few people who have been regulars at these CJCC meetings with particular suggestions have been consistently ignored. DMC and disproportionate incarceration rate is one concern that gathered several people opposed to the jail together. Very specific things lead to the current Jail population, which he thinks should be under 50.
Deputy Sheriff Brian Kahler dispelled some common misconceptions about the Johnson County Jail population. It seems as though people do not know exactly who is in the Jail. Kahler reported on the Jail roster from August 22nd, a date he chose at random, and reviewed the list of 142 inmates. Of those 142 people, 123 inmates were awaiting trial and 19 were serving sentences. Of the 123 awaiting trial, 10 were in on drug charges, and only two out of those 10 were in jail on marijuana charges. The two in jail for marijuana charges also had other primary charges that put them in jail. Of the 123 inmates awaiting trial, 79 were there on felony charges. He asked who the Sheriff’s Office should release if the Jail should only have 50 inmates as Gurtovoy claimed.
Etheredge asked for clarification of a felony. Lyness said examples of felony charges are robbery, burglary, causing more than $1,000 worth of theft or damage, weapons charges, 3rd offense of driving under the influence, assaults causing serious injury, domestic abuse third offense, domestic abuse impairment such as strangulation, and there are a few others. Such felony charges carry a maximum up to five years imprisonment.
Kahler added that of the 123 awaiting trial in the Jail right now, only two were brought in by UI police. In addition, no one is in Jail right now simply because they cannot pay a fine, no one is in Jail now on a single marijuana use charge, no one is in Jail now charged with the simple misdemeanor of public intoxication. These are the facts.
Whiston said voting on the Jail proposal is the only direct means for the public to wage its’ view on the criminal justice system in Johnson County. She thinks votes against the justice center were cast out of disagreement with current law enforcement policies. Rettig said that sentiment was voiced at the public input meeting at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center.
Sean Curtin said alcohol and drug arrests are higher on weekends. He thinks there are too many holding cells in the Jail. He encouraged CJCC members to be less attached to the idea of a combined justice center. Everyone would agree the least controversial component of the proposal is the Courthouse, and he does not think there is significant opposition to the Courthouse. The Jail on the other hand is a different story. This is where the opposition takes a stand; voters symbolically vote “no” to speak out on the drug war. Curtain talked about a how a person jailed on a marijuana charge at age 18 can have difficulty getting employment and may end up a hardened criminal. He said America incarcerates more people than Communist China.
Curtin said County elected officials need to aggressively challenge Iowa City Police Department policies. He asked Lyness what would happen if she refused to prosecute people for marijuana possession. Lyness said she does not want to debate this right now. Curtin replied he is just asking a question. Lyness said she is proud of the Marijuana Diversion Program and that they have decreased the number of people in jail. She said the consequence if she does not prosecute is that people with drug problems may not get treatment. She said she is sworn to uphold State law.
SET NEXT MEETING DATE
- October 1st: 1:00 p.m. in the Health and Human Services Building for input from governmental entities;
- October 7th: 6:00 p.m. at the Courthouse or HHS for public input to local government entities;
- October 9th: 4:30 p.m. in the HHS Building for the next CJCC meeting.
Whiston said the UI Human Rights Center, the Iowa City Human Rights Commission, and the Iowa ACLU has scheduled a conference on disproportionate minority incarceration on October 17th at 10:00 a.m. in the Lindquist Center.
Dieterle said other lobbying efforts have failed to strengthen marijuana laws.
Adjourned at 6:27 p.m.
Attest: Travis Weipert, Auditor Recorded By Nancy Tomkovicz