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UI policy helps reduce jail overcrowding on football game days

BY MATT STARNS | OCTOBER 16, 2012 6:30 AM

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A policy established in 2010 by University of Iowa police has helped reduce the number of individuals transported from the holding cell at Kinnick Stadium to the Johnson County Jail, and it is helping to reduce the cost of housing inmates in other jails.

The cite and release initiative — enacted in 2010 — was the product of a UI committee formed in conjunction with the Think Before You Drink campaign, and it took effect about the same time as Iowa City’s efforts to address liquor-related issues downtown, said Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police.

The policy, which allows individuals who are solely charged with public intoxication to be issued a written citation and released into the care of a sober friend or family member — assuming there are “no other issues,” Green said — has been a help to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

“This has worked out quite well and has helped to keep the jail population down on game day,” Green wrote in an email Monday.

Green said the initiative was put into place after UI police spoke with the County Attorney’s Office and other local law-enforcement organizations. He said the policy was established to avoid a significant increase in the number of individuals being sent to the Johnson County Jail for public intoxication on home-game days.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said the initiative has had a significant effect on jail overcrowding for game day weekends.

“It cut into the numbers deeply on how many game-day arrests they were bringing to the jail, which made it better for us,” Pulkrabek said. “Where it helps is the fact that prior to the change, anyone who got arrested at the game went to the detention facility and eventually ended up at the Sheriff’s Office.”

Pulkrabek said the decrease in game-day traffic at the jail has helped to reduce previous costs related to the housing of inmates outside of the county, a practice he said costs his department more than $1 million each year.

Records made available on the Sheriff’s Office website show the cost to house inmates outside the Johnson County Jail for fiscal 2012 was $1,116,511.

Pulkrabek said his office houses inmates out of the county to combat overcrowding in the jail, something that can be exacerbated on home-game days.

Pulkrabek said, however, that last year’s remodeling of the lower level of the jail — which added an additional booking area and several holding cells — and the cite and release initiative have helped his office to lower the numbers of inmates they are moving out of the jail on game day weekends, subsequently reducing costs, though he wasn’t able to say exactly by how much.

“It has a big impact on how busy the jail is,” he said. “That, along with the fact that we remodeled, allows our numbers in-house to swell a little bit more than it could before.”

Kelly Bender, the UI campus-community-harm-reduction coordinator, said the initiative is a good move by police.

“I think it’s smart policy to find some jail alternatives whenever it’s possible — when someone is intoxicated and professionals can determine it would be safe for them to go with someone else,” she said.

Bender emphasized, however, that students cited for public intoxication could face additional consequences through the university, regardless of a possible avoidance of jail time. 

“As far as students go, they would [still] have Code of Conduct issues to deal with at the university,” Bender said.

Students might be required to speak with a Health Iowa official to evaluate the risks of their alcohol abuse, she said.

“The conversation can be helpful in thinking about changes they might be ready to make,” she said. “It’s really sort of assessing a student’s readiness for change.”


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