Johnson County Justice Center

Jail Alternatives: Prevention, Diversion, Expediting, and Recidivism Reduction Efforts (as of April 2013)

Summary. The following information was current as of April 2013 (source). The slideshow above has been provided as a presentation from the county to inform residents about jail diversion efforts (source). Click here for larger images. The jail diversion press release from September 2006 about mental health and developmental disability services is another resource for those interested in learning more.

Beyond Diversion. In addition to traditional jail diversion approaches and services, Johnson County is investing millions of dollars in dozens of community partner organizations to reduce crime by raising the overall quality of life in Johnson County. Approximately $2.3 million per year are invested. The return on this investment is a savings of approximately $50 million in avoided annual policing and incarceration costs. This is achieved by creating opportunities for education, jobs, and housing that reduce crime and reduce our average incarceration to about 150 people instead of the national average of 950 people.


Current Resources and Facility Capacity. Currently the Johnson County jail has 92 beds but the inmate population for Johnson County averages approximately 156 inmates per day. This daily average has been reduced from prior years due to the implementation of a variety of interventions, programs, and strategies outlined in this report. The Sheriff has responded to the need for more jail beds by “renting” space in other Iowa counties. Johnson County paid $1,122,780.00 to house inmates in other counties in fiscal year 2012.

It should be recognized that while current jail space needs can partially be met by “renting” space from other counties, there are some rather significant consequences of this policy:

Alternatives to incarceration have been promoted as a way to reduce the pressure to build more jail cells, but it should be recognized that some alternatives are important because they serve treatment, justice and/or humanitarian concerns as well. It should also be noted that alternatives can only slow – not eliminate – the need for additional jail space. As the population of the county grows, so also will the jail population. Finally, jail alternatives have a cost and cannot be seen as a means of reducing jail operating expenses.

Absence of space in the current jail is the largest impediment to providing more alternatives and treatment opportunities to prisoners. It also is an impediment to increasing the efficient operation of the jail.

Currently, there is essentially one space that can be used for consultations, classes, small group activities, court room, interviews, etc. The difficulty is not how efficiently space is scheduled – the difficulty is the absence of adequate space.


1. Case Expediting

Beginning in the fall of 2011, staff from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, the Johnson County Attorney’s Office, Jail Alternatives Program, and the Johnson County State Public Defender’s Office meet regularly to review all inmates in the jail who could be released safely prior to their next proceeding. This has led to individuals being release prior to their trial or probation revocation hearing. The impact of this intervention is reflected in the average daily inmate population. In FY 11 the average daily population was 162.4 and in FY12 that was reduced to 156.3. That is an average of 6.1 fewer inmates in custody per day which translates to 2,226.5 fewer bed dates and a cost savings of $158,081.50 (6.1 inmates x 365 days x $71 per day).

2. Mental Health Screening and Diversion

The Johnson County Jail Alternatives Program is a mental health jail diversion program that provides services to individuals with mental health and co-occurring disorders who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Service provision includes screening, assessment, referral and linkage to treatment services as well as risk assessment, crisis intervention, support counseling, and short-term case monitoring. As of January 1, 2013, the Johnson County Jail Alternatives Program has served a total of 1038 unduplicated individuals since implementation in July 2005. On average, the Jail Alternatives Programs serves approximately 210 individuals per fiscal year. Jail Alternatives compares the number of jail bed dates one year prior to participation in the program and one year post. Based on those who meet the timeframe criteria, there has been a potential savings of 23,829 jail bed dates. At an estimated daily rate of $71 this translates to a potential cost savings of $1,691,859.

Note: A cost analysis has been conducted that determined the cost per day to house an inmate in Johnson County is $71. This figure includes the actual expenditures for the jail and transportation costs. A modern, efficient jail costs less than $40 per inmate per day to operate. For the purpose of demonstrated cost expenditures and savings, the $71 figure is used throughout this document.

In addition to the monetary savings, other un-quantified savings include prevented law violations, prevented victims, prevented lawsuits, prevented psychiatric hospitalizations, prevented committals, maintained and increased employment and housing, promoting public health and safety and the quality of life enhancements for participants and the community.

Given the current overcrowding in the jail, many inmates are housed out of county which creates barriers to getting inmates released through the mental health diversion program. Further, having inmates housed out of county limits the amount of post-release discharge planning that can be done to promote recidivism reduction. Only by having all inmates housed in Johnson County will access to the Mental Health Screening and Diversion service be accessible to all Johnson County inmates,

3. Substance Abuse Evaluations and Treatment

Johnson County contracts with MECCA to provide substance abuse evaluations for indigent defendants who are required by law to obtain a substance abuse evaluation. MECCA staff is present at the jail seven days a week to conduct substance abuse evaluations. Those arrested for OWI and those with multiple charges related to substance use are typically seen. The goal of the service is to reduce the length of time inmates are in jail and reduce the number of individuals who may later be found in contempt of court for failing to follow through with an evaluation following discharge from the jail. In fiscal year 2012, 342 evaluations were completed allowing these inmates to be discharged without delay. Of those evaluations, 54% were recommended for additional services.

Without additional physical space, there are no opportunities for in-custody substance abuse treatment, which would likely impact recidivism rates.

4. Drug Treatment Court

The Johnson County Drug Treatment Court held the first hearings in February 2008.
This program is designed for individuals who have a substance use disorder, and/or a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health disorder, and are facing a prison sentence if Drug Court were not an option. The program includes intensive treatment, intensive supervision, and weekly contact with the judge and Drug Treatment Court team and requires a minimum of 18 months. This timeframe is important to consider when reviewing the number of participants who have completed the program.

Since beginning on February 23, 2008, in Johnson County: 73 people accepted; 14 people successfully completed probation; 21 still enrolled. The total days of supervision provided in the community for people who would have been in prison otherwise equals 33,480. Had those individuals been sentenced to prison, the cost to the state would have been $2,890,998 ($86.35 per day). Instead the cost on supervision was $121,867 ($3.64 per day). This translates to a savings of $2,769,131. It is difficult to quantify the impact Drug Treatment Court will have on county jail. Overall, it should have a positive impact on the jail population by delaying or reducing recidivism long term.

The Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services has been the recipient of two SAMHSA grants as well as Drug Court Discretionary Funds to enhance employment and mental health services for participants of the Drug Treatment Court. By more effectively addressing these needs, the goal is that program participants will have the resources they need to be successful in this program, while also providing them the resources and services they need to reduce their chances of becoming involved in the criminal justice system in the future.

Expansion of Drug Treatment Court is limited due to space at the courthouse. Currently, one jury room is used for review meetings and a courtroom is needed weekly for the Drug Treatment Court reviews with clients. Scheduling for other hearing has to be arranged to allow for use of the courtroom by Drug Treatment Court each week.

5. Marijuana Diversion Program

The County Attorney’s Office implemented a marijuana diversion program in July 2010. The diversion programs provide a “once only” opportunity for first time offenders to attend a treatment/educational program instead of paying a fine and/or jail time. In the Marijuana Diversion Program, 300 people have enrolled since the program began on July 1, 2010. Through July 2012 , 212 people successfully completed the program, 5 were still actively participating in the program, and 83 had been unsuccessfully discharged from the program.

6. Releasing Inmates Prior to Initial Appearance

Jail staff and law enforcement have the discretion to “sign out” individuals to return to the community after they have been charged with an offense so that these individuals do not remain in custody while awaiting their Initial Appearance and pending court hearings.

7. Discretionary Reward/Incentive Program for Inmates

This is administered by the Sheriff and Jail Administrator. “Good time” for inmates currently varies from 0% to 20%. This decreases up to six days off each thirty days of a sentence for an inmate with good behavior. It provides an incentive for inmates to comply with jail rules and decreases the number of days defendants spend in jail.

8. Driving Under Suspension Court

The “Rocket Docket” court allows defendants facing simple misdemeanor Driving Under Suspension (DUS) charges to enter into an agreement to pay their obligations with the ultimate goal of having their driver’s license privileges fully restored. The program meets once a month and the progress of the participants is monitored. Successful completion of the program not only avoids jail time, but allows participants a way to become legally licensed drivers who can drive to work, school or other obligations. In 2012, 830 cases were scheduled and 74% appeared for the hearing.

Currently this program is allotted courtroom space only once a month. The numbers of participants warrant having additional hearings each month but lack of space precludes scheduling any additional hearings. The lack of space also limits the ability to expand the program to include those charged with more serious or enhanced license violations such as Driving While Barred.

9. Electronic Home Arrest/Work Release

Work Release allows an inmate to be released from the jail to go to their job then return to the work for all other hours of the day. The Johnson County Sheriff authorized 135 applications for work/school release from jail during calendar year 2012. The Sheriff also approved 3 Home Monitoring applications saving 113 bed days and housing costs.

10. Expedited Filing of the Report of Violation for Probation Violations

The probation revocation request and report are being delivered to the County Attorney’s office within 24 hours after a Preliminary Probation Violation Information is filed.


1. Strategies to Expedite and Reduce Recidivism

2. Space Needs that Address Care and Treatment of Inmates

3. Space for Juveniles that are Adjudicated to Adult Court


1. Mobile Crisis Team

2. Intensive Probation Supervision

3. FUSE (Frequent Users System Engagement)


1. Current available statistics for the racial breakdown in Johnson County

2. Recommendation

The Treatment and Alternatives Subcommittee recommends that Johnson County employs an evidence-based racial equity impact assessment tool to analyze where racial disparities exist in the County’s criminal justice system (sheriff’s office, county attorney, courts, jail). The subcommittee further recommends that, with the help of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, the County develops strategies for modifying policies, programs, budget and staffing toward remedying these disparities in a timely manner. It is recommended that the initial analysis becomes the baseline for annual or biannual racial equity impact assessments by the various departments so that adjustments can be made as needed. Further, it is recommended that the County will encourage all municipalities using the County Jail to engage in similar steps to insure racial equity in all local law enforcement agencies.



The source for this document was the Johnson County government website. It was reformatted for the web and reposted here.

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