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Johnson County justice center proponents present revised plans

BY ANNA THEODOSIS | JANUARY 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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Proponents of the Johnson County justice center aren’t giving up quite yet.

Johnson County officials held a public hearing Tuesday night to discuss the newly revised proposal for the center after an earlier version failed to pass in November 2012. Local residents filled nearly every seat in Courtroom 2A in the Johnson County Courthouse.

The referendum in November needed a super majority of 60 percent of the public voting in favor of the center — only 56 percent approved it. But the county Board of Supervisors has come back with a plan that addresses some of the opponents’ concerns, such as price.

The new bond referendum cost decreased by $3.3 million from a previous cost of $46.8 million.
Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said he thinks some Iowa City residents still do not fully understand the needs of the jail.

“If you want to unclog the jail and reduce the occupation, you got to consider legalizing murder, rape, [and] robbery,” he said. “If you want to legalize those, that’s who’s in jail, but that’s not reasonable.”

Even after the new proposal, some locals still have concerns. Of those who spoke at the meeting, some wanted the center to pass, while others thought it would be damaging to the community.

University of Iowa history Professor Jeff Cox told the supervisors he still disapproves of the proposal because he feels an expanded jail could mean more arrests which hurt students’ reputations after graduation.

“Our students are coming out of here with a serious disability with growing up in Iowa City,” he said. “This hurts people, and it hurts them really badly. The problem is getting worse because more and more employers are asking people to disclose their arrest records.”

However, another Iowa City resident thought differently.

“The proposed justice center would provide additional space, alleviate overcrowding in the current jail,” said Jim McCarragher, an Iowa City lawyer. “The justice center is the right thing to do — it’s the right time. I don’t know about you, but the people in this jail are not [alcohol busts]. As a grandparent, I would not want [murderers and robbers] mingling with my grandkids.”

Sgt. Rebecca Moses, who works inside the current jail, told the DI overcrowding is not just a recent issue. According to Moses, as of Tuesday, 149 inmates were in jail. The jail was originally built to hold 46, but after double bunking, its current capacity is 92 inmates.

“I don’t think the public is aware of the conditions here,” she said. “In my eight years here, I haven’t seen it below 80 inmates total.”

Pulkrabek also iterated the need for the justice center.

“The need for the jail in my opinion goes without saying,” he said. “We create hardships for those out of county that have less access [to attorneys, friends and families].”

Some UI students had varied reactions to the plan.

“I mean, [the center is] probably not a good idea; they can try again,” UI junior Genji Onishi said. “It seems like they could probably put more money into something else.”

UI sophomore Breana Hyder thought differently.

“If someone’s working that hard for something, [they should try again],” she said. “Plus I think it would be a good investment.”

Pulkrabek said before the meeting despite the previous plan not passing, he was pleased to see the majority of people were in favor during the vote in November.

“I appreciate the support that the majority of people that voted in November’s election voted to pass it,” he said. “Even though the justice center got a higher percentage than [President] Obama [nationwide], it’s not enough.”

The sheriff plans to keep on fighting for votes.

“We’ve addressed some of their concerns,” he said. “I’m going to go out and try to educate more people.”


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