Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains frequently asked questions with answers that are relevant to the most recent proposal that was voted on in May 2013. A majority of residents have voted in favor of this proposal, but changes are needed to achieve supermajority support (greater than 60%).

What’s this all about?

  • Johnson County has outgrown its current Courthouse, Sheriff’s office and jail facilities
  • Lack of space hampers public safety, security, and service
  • The situation is increasingly serious and poses threats to our community

Why should this matter to me?

  • Insecure conditions at the jail and 112-year-old Courthouse threaten all visitors—your family, friends, and neighbors who serve on jury duty or have other reasons to visit these facilities
  • Outmoded facilities harm Johnson County’s image as a safe, welcoming, and progressive place to work and live, and may deter future development. Inadequate jail facilities cost taxpayers $1.3M/year to house prisoners elsewhere
  • Better facilities mean improved services, more secure conditions, and a safer community

What if we just leave the Courthouse as-is?

  • Without added safety features, the risk grows for personal harm. Deficiency examples include:
    • Increased use increases congestion, which may prevent some people from being able to escape in case of fire or other emergency.
      • Currently there is no automatic fire sprinkler system in place, which means if there were a fire it could do much more damage than it would normally do in a building that meets existing fire safety guidelines.
      • Only one of the Courthouse’s two exits meet federal/state Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Much needs to be done to make the building more accessible, and a new facility would (of course) meet all safety and accessibility requirements.
  • Without added security features, the risk grows for public harm. Deficiency examples include:
    • An armed intruder could cause harm to employees, judicial personnel, or members of the public using the Courthouse.
      • No entrance system/checkpoint protecting against weapons
      • No warning system for security breach
      • Continued intermingling of persons held in jail with general public using Courthouse creates fear and risk of harm environment.
  • Without more courtrooms, additional space for Clerk of Court and County Attorney Offices, and other public service features, the backlog of cases will continue to grow, jeopardizing defendants’ rights, delaying justice, multiplying inefficiencies, and adding to taxpayer costs. Deficiency examples include:
    • Courtrooms are too few and too small for increasing case load and cannot accommodate current technologies
    • Elevator and restrooms are not adequate to meet increased number of people using the Courthouse
    • Clerk of Court and County Attorney offices to small to accommodate increased employees, and storage and accessibility of case files

Isn’t the Johnson County Jail relatively new?

  • The current jail opened in 1981, designed for inmate capacity of 46, modified to house 92
  • Space shortage is now critical (average daily inmate census = 160 to 200)
  • Jail facility is non-compliant with state requirements for space and safety standards
    • Met standards when 1st constructed but standards have changed over the course of 30 years
    • Been grandfathered into compliance as long as jail population is kept reduced to achieve classification and separation requirements
  • Design deficiencies pose threats to visitors and employees

What are the facts about our jail population?

  • Myth: “Most inmates are students arrested for alcohol offenses”

Fact: 85% to 90% of the jail bed usage is by inmates held longer than a week and
the probability a UI student will be held longer than a week is less than 0.1%.

The following is the answer to the common question: “Why are the people held in our jail and why are they there?”

People held in our jail are a mixture of the general population and habitual offenders. Three out of five people are released within a day (88% of those charged with a simple misdemeanor) and one of five within a week after their temporary threat to safety has elapsed. The remaining 20% are habitual offenders charged with felonies, indictable misdemeanors, parole/probation violations and contempt but the ones that used about 45% of the jail beds are those accused of acts that harm others (fraud, larceny, assault, burglary, arson, rape, armed robbery, kidnapping and homicide).

What’s the proposed solution?

  • Johnson County Justice Center— all-in-one facility combining jail, Sheriff’s Office, Clerk of Court and court related facilities
  • County Attorney office to stay in current space
  • Solves safety, security, and space issues in a single facility
  • Increases efficiency, saves time by co-locating related functions
  • Makes optimum use of building site adjacent to current Courthouse
  • Preserves and enhances historic/iconic Courthouse facility
    • The large/ceremonial third-floor courtroom will be retained
    • Current exterior of Courthouse will be retained
  • Maximizes public benefit, minimizes costs

Where will the Johnson County Justice Center be located?

  • Primary building site is behind existing Courthouse
  • All components to be accommodated on land already owned by Johnson County (with possible exception of future parking ramp)

What will the new facility house?

  • Five-level, 153,800 gross square feet (existing Courthouse excluded)
  • Four new courtrooms, judge’s chambers, court administration offices and meeting space (four courtrooms will be shelled — for expansion capabilities to accommodate four additional courtrooms)
  • Johnson County Sheriff’s Office
  • Johnson County Clerk of Court
  • Housing for 195 inmates (not 243 as previously planned)
  • Secured space for programming needs such as teaching life skills, GED, AA, religious and other activities that target reducing recidivism
  • Single secure entrance – with visitor entry screening procedures – that will integrate into existing Courthouse

What’s the timeline for this project?

  • May 7,2013: Bond Referendum
  • May 8, 2013 – February, 2014: Prepare Design and Construction Documents
  • February, 2014 – March, 2014 – Bidding and Negotiation
  • March, 2014 – November 2015 – Construction
  • January, 2016 – Open new Justice Center.

How will you pay for it, and what’s it going to cost me?

  • Public bond issue not to exceed $43.5 million
  • Tax impact is $22.46 per $100,000 of assessed value of rural and urban residential homeowner.
    • Here’s a real-world example… For a 75-acre piece of agricultural property in Hardin Township with an average CSR rating of 71, the tax increase would be $34.02 per year.
  • Current funds being spent on jail transport will stay in Johnson County to help offset new facility’s operating costs

Who put this issue on the Ballot?

  • The Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted in March, 2012 to put this bond referendum to voters on the November 6 ballot.
  • The Johnson County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee has been working for the past 10 years to develop this plan to meet the needs of our growing population.

Where can I get more information about the Justice Center and the local issues bringing this to voters?

Check out the Johnson County web-site for more facts about this issue at

Who is in favor of this?

Check out our Supporters page to see a list of organizations and individuals supporting a Yes Vote on November 6th.

Now is the time to support a sensible solution
to the challenges facing the Johnson County Justice System.
Please VOTE YES.

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