Two Weeks to Go: Voters Discuss Johnson County Justice Center Project

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa - With just two weeks until Johnson County voters head back to the polls, the justice center debate is heating up.

Johnson County residents will vote May 7 on a $43.5 million bond issue to pay for the building. Plans for the justice center include a new 195 bed jail and courtrooms. It would be located just behind the existing county courthouse.

The signs and the pamphlets around a room inside Hotel Vetro made it clear Tuesday night. The "Vote No New Jail" group had one goal during an educational forum.

"Obviously to defeat the proposal," said Panelist with the Vote No group, Bob Thompson.

Panelist shared ideas on why voters should not approve the current justice center plan.

"If it continues, what they are proposing, is going to be full again probably in a few years," Thompson said. "What they need is more alternatives."

Speakers spent the evening sharing some of those alteratives. Most believe there should be more attention spent on how to reduce the jail population instead of making more space for a bigger number of inmates.

"I support building a smaller new jail," said Panelist for the Vote No group Jeff Cox. "That's my personal view. Other people have different views. I don't think we should expand the number of people in the jail."

But sprinkled in the crowd, a few "Vote Yes" campaign members also sat through the forum. They said the justice center is vital for more space and programming.

"We're trying to make sure we're giving the best to defendants and making sure that those folks who find themselves in there, incarcerated, aren't being shipped out to other counties but to are staying here to keep the system efficient to save tax dollars," said Vote Yes for Justice Campaign Director Scott McKeag.

The county pays to transport inmates to other jails because of the lack of space.

Regardless of if you're in the vote yes or vote no crew, Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said the issue wouldn't go away any time soon.

"If we have strike two, my haunch is that we'll be right at the plate again, asking voters for some assistance in dealing with the issue," Supervisor Neuzil said.

The last vote on the project was held in November when it was narrowly rejected by voters. Since then, county leaders have down-sized the project plans and reduced the cost.
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