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Safety, security crucial for proposed Johnson County Justice Center

BY AUDREY ROEN | DECEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Architects for the proposed Johnson County justice center will be tasked with creating a jail with fewer "blind spots."

Though the necessity for a new jail was initially prompted because of increases in Johnson County's population, officials said Wednesday that Neuman and Monson and Venture Architects — selected for the project last week — should make safety and security problems a priority.

Johnson County Sgt. John Good said the current jail allows inmates to scope out "blind spots," where officers don't have a clear line of vision, allowing fights to take place without intervention.

"The limited amount of monitoring we have hinders us from responding appropriately," said Good. "It includes the fights or stuff like the big inmate taking food away from the smaller inmate."

Good also noted inmates have been harassed by their cell mates, and authorities are now only able to stop fights when they hear commotion.

Though Good said the number of attacks is unknown because of the random nature of the incidents, he said he has dealt with three or four of such situations since the early 2000s.

Jim McCarragher, a member of the county's public information/outreach Subcommittee, said the current jail was constructed in the early 1970s with the intention of housing one inmate in each jail cell.

However, Good said the jail began placing two inmates in each cell in 1992, and the layout makes it more difficult to monitor those inmates.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors met with officials from Neumann Monson and Venture Architects Wednesday to discuss progress on the proposed center.

Board of Supervisors Executive Assistant Andy Johnson said the county is scheduled to pay the two architects a total of roughly $90,000 for their services through April 2012. The companies will come up with a schematic design for a new justice center that will create extra and updated housing for inmates, host jail-alternative programs, and courthouse dealings.

During the meeting, officials discussed the well-documented need for updates to the county's facilities with the architects .

"One of our biggest concerns is just the current design of the existing jail," said Supervisor Terrence Neuzil. "It really does impede our ability for staff to really properly control inmates, vandalism, and maybe other forms of damage to the jail."

Architects Dwight Doberstein of Neumann Monson and John Cain of Venture said they've had three meetings with jail officials to discuss the outline of the justice-center design, and have taken tours of the jail to help them come up with plans to accommodate the county's needs.

The next meeting for updates on designs, costs and comments concerning the center will be Jan. 11, and officials plan on completing architectural designs by April 4.

County residents will vote on a bond referendum for the justice center in November 2012.


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