Get the facts before next justice center vote

Jennifer Hemmingsen
Published: January 7 2013 | 2:40 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:43 am in
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It looks like Johnson County Board of Supervisors might be ready to take another crack at the Justice Center.

After losing last November’s vote by a few lousy percentage points, they’re making plans to bring a slightly smaller and less-expensive proposal back before voters in early May.

That’s good timing — soon enough that it’s still on voter’s radar, far enough away that there’s plenty of time to do some homework.

I got the feeling last time around that most voters didn’t delve too deeply into the decades-long jail and courthouse saga.

That if they had been given the choice between voting yes, no, or “don’t know/don’t care,” more than a few would have chosen the third.

In fact, according to the auditor’s office, more than 12,000 voters who cast a ballot in other races didn’t bother to weigh in on the justice center (a few marked both “yes” and “no”. Maybe they were conflicted?).

It’s more than fair to call a do-over when the “don’t know, don’t care” vote equals one-third the total “yes” vote, and more than 40 percent of the “no’s”.

And it’s a call for more education, even though folks such as the sheriff, who by now could teach a master class in jail statistics, could be forgiven for being sick of the numbers.

John Neff has been studying and writing about the issue for years, and now he’s put all his findings out on the Web: http://jco-justice.com

It’s a treasure trove of facts, and it should be required reading for anyone who wants to talk about the justice center in the months ahead.

Want to know who is taking up space in the jail? Neff’s got it broken down by race, sex, age, charge and criminal history. Want to know how long inmates sit on drug or alcohol charges? Neff’s got those figures, too. He can tell you how many people are booked by day of the week, or during the day or night.

The only thing Neff doesn’t give is easy answers. There aren’t any. But he explores the heck out of all the questions that came up last fall.

The county’s criminal justice coordinating committee has invited critics to the table, and have tweaked the proposal to help it pass — they’ll likely lower the price tag by a few million, reduce the number of jail beds and new courtrooms. They’ll scrap the glass facade.

But I’d like to think it’s the facts that will carry the justice center vote this time around. They’re out there.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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