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Curtin: Vote down "injustice center" on May 7

BY GUEST COLUMN | APRIL 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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The fight is on over whether we will build a new jail near downtown Iowa City. Despite a 14-year campaign to build a bigger jail and lock up more residents, the flaws of this proposed injustice center are obvious. Johnson County doesn’t need a huge new building. We need to take a new approach.

The revised “justice center” price tag is nonbinding, just like the Joint Communications Center budget was; it’s entirely possible this jail will end up costing more than $50 million.

One in 8 (12 percent) of university students are graduating with permanent black marks on their records, which will harm their financial stability.

Five percent of Johnson County residents are black; 40 percent of inmates in the Johnson County Jail are black. This is outrageous and unacceptable, and we as voters have a responsibility not to enable institutionalized discrimination.

Local bail bondsmen report a dramatic disparity in the cost of bail and bonds in Johnson County (compared to the state average) that they say contributes to jail overpopulation. Any attempt to reduce overpopulation without this as one of the first steps is not serious.

The new jail would be paid for with a 20-year property-tax hike. This will hurt all taxpayers in the county, especially rural community members who are less likely to be benefited by or be inmates in the new jail. Property taxes have been raised repeatedly in the last few years, leaving even those who favor increased revenue saying, “Enough is enough.”

The county establishment has pushed for this new jail on two other occasions, and it has been rejected twice. It’s time for our vote to be respected.

We are experiencing downward incarceration rates in our county with a 13.5 percent reduction in incarceration at our jail in 2012 compared with 2010. With fewer arrests, the idea of more cellblocks is still the wrong answer.

In the last few years the cost of inmate transportation and other associated expenses has dipped below the $1.3 million amount county officials cite. At $750,000 per year to transport, feed, and house prisoners — the idea that we should build a nearly $50 million jail to save money is not sound.
There are many low-level crimes that could be addressed with a summons to appear in court as long as there is an absence of violence or aggravated circumstances.

So, in the coming weeks, you may see yard signs in front of your neighbors’ homes. You might even hear a couple of ads on the radio about this. And government leaders will be trying to persuade you what’s best for us. But the truth is that the power to make this decision will be in the hands of the people on May 7. Vote No new jail.

Sean Curtin
Iowa City resident


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