Johnson County Iowa Jail Population Data Charts


The charts below are based on Sheriff’s Annual Reports and the latest data up to the present for daily average incarceration in the Johnson County Jail. Click any image for a larger gallery view.

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Commentary. Below are some comments regarding the above data.

  • “I think our low and declining incarceration numbers in Johnson County are something to be proud about. It shows that we’re doing something right, and could be a model for other areas in the country that are struggling with incarceration rates about 700% higher than ours. The only explanation I can think of for our success is the investment we make in education, libraries, social services, and public spaces. It seems to be proof that investing in communities at the front end can save high costs later on. Those against building a new jail don’t want to talk about these numbers because they suggest that there isn’t an incarceration crisis locally. Those who are in favor of building a new jail avoid these numbers because they suggest we may have a declining future need for incarceration. My feeling is that we need to bring our jail and courthouse into compliance with State and Federal laws. They are currently illegal in this regard and would not be approved were they proposed as new construction. An adequately sized jail is essential to ensure that everyone who is incarcerated has equal access to justice services. This is imperative for equality of justice. There’s still much more we can do as a community to foster racial equality. That’s not a responsibility we can push off on law enforcement or a dozen county administrators. It requires all of us to be united for change. Only then can we see justice equality.” ~ Greg Johnson, Volunteer at


Sources. The links below provide sources and further reading.

Data. The data below is provided by the Sheriff’s office. The YTD Average Daily Population for 2013 is shown below based on data up to this point.

  • 2010-2011: 162.4
  • 2011-2012: 156.2
  • 2012-2013: 144.7
  • 2013-2014: 139.1 (All Inmates Incl. Overnight)
  • 2014 May: 127 (Daily average as of 12 May 2014)

*120.8 (Pre-Trial + Sentenced Inmates)


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8 Comments on “Johnson County Iowa Jail Population Data Charts”

  1. October 11, 2013 at 2:44 am #

    “Those against building a new jail don’t want to talk about these numbers” — Gregory Paul Johnson, this is a completely unsubstantiated comment, and you know it. You just posted “these numbers”!

    If you find that some people from the NO camp are not willing to engage in a prolonged discussion with you, perhaps that’s because they got tired of pointing out over and over again similar distortions and inaccuracies in your posts that you keep defending when it’s completely obvious to everyone else that that’s what they are. At some point people realize that they are better off spending their time on something that would actually advance the cause.

    As far as your graphs are concerned, they are just as distorted as your comment. For example, the Jail Incarceration Rate cuts off the bars at 90 inmates, effectively making it look as if our incarceration rate has dropped by the factor 2 since 2010, when in fact it only went down by 20%. Barf.

  2. October 11, 2013 at 3:04 am #

    The same trick is used in “Jail Incarceration – Daily Average”, “Daily Average Jail Population Compared to Population Growth” and “Population Growth” graphs. And as far as “Incarceration Rate” graph is concerned, you’ve been told over and over again that you are comparing apples to oranges.

    The 754 per 100,000 population is an aggregate national incarceration rate; it includes state and federal prisons, which exhibit completely different population dynamics and their own set of unique problems:

  3. October 11, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    Then why the heck is there such a push on tax payers to flip for a new jail?

  4. October 13, 2013 at 12:17 am #

    As far as jail population graphs go, if you want to be objective, you should show what the numbers looked like in 2005, 2000, 1995, 1900 and 1985, and have a third bar showing a projected jail population based on the 1985 incarceration level — basically what John Neff has at

  5. October 14, 2013 at 1:47 am #

    Yes, incarceration rates for Johnson County are generally lower then incarceration rates for other Iowa counties – see

    IMHO it doesn’t matter that much:

    1. “We are doing pretty crappy job, but our neighbors are doing even worse” – is not a great attitude.

    2. If we look at underlying conditions such as pretrial jail time – can we really say that these are OK?

    So discussing/explaining what the real underlying problems are would be much more helpful:

    Why do we have such long pretrial times? What is a current bottleneck? What can we do to eliminate it?

    Why can’t we release pending a trial (electronic monitoring, bonds)? What other options do we have? What stops us from implementing them?


    In addition to that, original data for analysis is very hard to come by. It might be a good idea to put more authoritative data online. It might be a good idea for both sides to help county with that.

  6. Jeff Cox
    November 6, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    Why are the supervisors so resistant to bringing forward a proposal to meet current jail needs, i.e. to build a 150 bed jail, or a 60 bed jail annex? We could then have a discussion about whether even that number is too high, but it is a mistake to assume that jail bond issues have failed because they are too expensive. Johnson County voters are willing to spend public money, and vote at 60%+ levels, for public institutions, if they are persuaded that they are necessary. Jail proposals have failed, not twice, but three times, and each time voters were reacting against “planning for growth”. It would be an even greater mistake now to “plan for growth” when we appear to be at the peak of a bell shaped curve of jail population growth and decline. Why not propose a building that will meet our current needs, end the need to transfer prisoners to Muscatine, and include some facilities for family visitation and exercise? Jeff Cox

    • November 7, 2013 at 9:10 am #


      Thanks for taking time to comment here. You make a good point. Why not propose a facility of 150 beds, or close (but not attached) annex facility of 50 (that doesn’t involve expanding the existing facility)?

      As I understand it, we can’t modify the existing facility without being required to bring it fully into compliance with state laws that are meant to ensure humane treatment of prisoners (such as adequate space). The current facility doesn’t offer adequate space, but somehow manages to be permitted because it was built before these humanitarian laws were enacted.

      That said, I’ve spoken with a number of people opposed to the previous proposals who would support a proposal for a smaller facility.

      I’ve also had exchanges with some who were supportive of previous proposals, but would be less enthusiastic about building smaller. Their reasoning is that any facility (water tower, school, library, waste treatment facility, bridge, etc.) should be built for longer term usability.

      It seems to me there are three possible sizes that could be proposed:

      150 beds to meet the present average daily demand
      195 beds to meet the present peak demand (May 2013 proposal)
      243 beds to meet future peak demand (6 November 2012 proposal)

      There’s a split among voters regarding what number is best. Certainly a proposal of a facility with a capacity of 150 would bring in many of the people who felt the cost and capacity of the other proposals were too high. There may be a few who would vote against a smaller proposal – viewing it as less economical in the long-run. Yet, the only way to know is to vote on it, or have a scientific public survey.

      A facility with a capacity of 150 could serve additional purposes other than simply providing more space for incarceration. It could be built to last more than a few decades. It could have new systems for locking, monitoring, security, electrical, networking, etc. It could have space for the treatment programs and visitation purposes. It could be safer for everyone, and with a pod design, it could have a lower per inmate staffing ratio. All these benefits could be present in a facility of any size.

      I’ve often wondered why a facility couldn’t be built with additional land for future expansion if ever needed. In that way, we wouldn’t be creating a shell of a facility that simply needs some walls and beds — in anticipation of massive incarceration. Instead, other than the land cost, there would be no present-day investment in future incarceration needs.


  7. John Zimmerman
    November 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    I agree with Jeff that a jail proposal based on current need and with adequate recreation and visiting space would get the support of most of us (including myself) who opposed the previous proposals because of over-incarceration concerns.

    The visiting space is a big issue for me. When I visited a friend in the Johnson County Jail last week, I discovered that the current jail has now gone to video visiting rather than being able to talk with the person by phone through glass. The state prisons, in contrast, are set up for face to face visiting. Their visiting rooms are set up like elementary school cafeterias. You sit at a table with the person you’re visiting. Kids of all ages are welcome. There are vending machines and bathrooms. And you can visit for an hour — even longer if there aren’t people waiting. Why can’t we in Johnson County visit that way — especially given that the people in the state prison are convicted of felonies while 80% of those in the Johnson County Jail are simply awaiting trial (still innocent until proven guilty, but unable to pay bond for pretrial release), mostly for misdemeanors and/or non-violent offenses?

    (Given that the past jail proposals also involved visiting only by video screen, it’s strange to me that its proponents of it argued that it would allow easier visiting of inmates by local friends and family. Couldn’t they just set up video visiting from here to inmates in the Muscatine and Washington jails? It seems unnecessary, given modern technology, to make people drive to Muscatine or Washington just to visit with someone by video screen.)

    I also echo Greg’s question regarding building the jail in a place that it could be expanded if necessary down the road. The Mitchellville women’s prison, for example, is made up of several smaller buildings — sort of like a college campus, but all behind security fencing of course. When they want to expand there, they can just add onto a building or build another one. That approach also has the advantage of putting outdoor space inside the facility, so that inmates aren’t always inside.

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