Tonight’s vote was the second strike against the Johnson County jail. For the second time in a dozen years, voters failed to approve a bond that would have allowed the county to build a facility that would come close to meeting its needs.
No doubt, a number of them balked at the $46.8 million price tag. For many others, voting no was a way to speak out against high rates of incarceration — especially of poor folks and people of color. But the vote won’t change the number of people we put behind bars — that’s determined by law and the courts. It just means they’ll remain, for the foreseeable future, behind bars in other counties’ jails.
The last time voters put the kibosh on a jail referendum, the sheriff’s office listened. They did what they could to cut jail time. They kept detailed records and studied alternatives. Did jail opponents work with any commensurate effort to address the factors outside the sheriff’s control?
Did they lobby lawmakers to give judges more discretion in sentencing? Did they push for funding for community corrections? Help stitch together a safety net so adults with mental illness stop falling through the cracks? Throw their weight and resources into substance abuse recovery? More important: Will they do so now?
It’s because of those factors the jail is overflowing and until they change, nothing else will.
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