(Source: “JC Supervisors seek officials’ input,” Daily Iowan, 2 October 2013, by Cassidy Riley)
Local law-enforcement and government officials are back at the drawing board for a new jail alternative.
“The only option that is not an option is doing nothing,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said. “We have to do something. We are in desperate need of courthouse space, and we are in desperate need of repairs for the jail.”
The supervisors met with other government and community leaders on Tuesday to discuss alternatives for the county jail.
Rettig said the supervisors have worked for the better part of 13 years on a way to address the ever-increasing safety concerns associated with the courthouse and the jail.
The supevisors have placed two bond referendums up for a vote with two slightly different proposals for a new justice center. The first proposal contained 243 jail beds and six courtrooms. That proposal required a 60 percent supermajority.
The $46.8 million proposal only received 56 percent of the vote. A slightly scaled back version of the proposal in May only received 54 percent of the vote.
“We put forward the plan that we thought was best the last time,” Supervisor Rod Sullivan said. “Anything that we come up with will be a plan that we will probably be able to shoot some holes in, but that’s just where we’re at. We’re moving on to Plan B, and we don’t know what Plan B is.”
Some of the officials in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting included Iowa City city councilors, police chiefs from Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty, and several city officials, including City Manager Tom Markus.
One of the most common pieces of feedback the supervisors received was the need to keep both the courthouse and the jail near downtown Iowa City.
Sullivan said having the structures located near downtown provides a source of employment and revenue for the city, and officials did not appear concerned that it would negatively affect developments on the South Side.
“They want those buildings there, and so I thought that was very good to get that on the record,” Sullivan said.
Officials from the University of Iowa, including President Sally Mason and Chuck Green, assistant vice president for the UI police, were also invited to attend. Rettig said the UI police are a growing force in the county, and she would have liked to see a representative there, but no one from the university turned up.
Green, who was unable to attend the meeting because of prior commitments, said he believes the best way to address overcrowding in the jail is by “[reducing] the number of people we send to the county jail.”
City Councilor Jim Throgmorton brought up the number of disproportionate minorities in the jail.
While African-Americans make up about 5 percent of the county population, they made up 42 percent of the jail’s average daily population in 2010.
“Many people believe that improvements could be made that reduce the unnecessary arrest, incarceration, and sentencing of minority individuals,” he said.
Rettig said the last public input session will take place on Oct. 7, and the supervisors will then collect feedback and attempt to come to a consensus for a new plan.
“I think we’ll know a lot more on Oct. 14 on whether we are in a three- or four-month plan or a three- or four-year plan,” she said.