Come back with a jail proposal we can afford

Jeff Cox, 1 November 2012  •  Comments

Supporters of the new Johnson County jail have been unable to explain why they need to add 147 new jail cells. About 50 beds are needed to deal with jail overcrowding, which still leaves 80-100 to explain. Pro-jail advocates fail to acknowledge that incarceration rates are not merely a matter of population growth, but rest on policy decisions about how we police our community.

Arrest rates locally are soaring for University of Iowa students. Even if students only stay in jail for one night, they contribute to overcrowding as long term inmates are moved.

Over a mere three years, the Johnson County Drug Task Force achieved a 100 percent increase in arrests for non-violent drug offenses — mostly marijuana. Many of these offenders are put on parole or in drug diversion programs and then sent back to jail after failing mandatory drug tests.

Finally there is the issue of race, which jail proponents have not discussed at all. As many as 40 percent of the jail occupants are black in a county that is only 5 percent African-American. With increasing juvenile arrests, the new jail will be part of a “school to jail pipeline” for young black residents.

The cost of the new jail will be measured not only in $48 million dollars of property tax money, but in the human cost of lives damaged by over-incarceration. The supervisors should come back next year with a jail proposal that we can afford, both financially and in terms of the quality of our community.

Jeff Cox
Iowa City