Hopefuls focus on jail

BY KAITLIN DEWULF | MAY 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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With primary elections just under a month away, the question of how candidates would handle the needs and limitations of the Johnson County Jail was raised at a public forum Monday. The League of Women Voters held the forum in the Iowa City Public Library to give residents and candidates an opportunity to address their concerns on various issues in the county.

The Board of Supervisors candidates answered questions presented by the league and the audience, and the jail was a hot topic of discussion. While early voting has commenced, the primary voting day is June 3.

Proposals for the jail have been put before voters twice, with both votes failing to garner the supermajority needed to pass the bond referendums. In attendance were Supervisor Janelle Rettig, Mike Carberry, Lisa Green-Douglass, and Diane Dunlap, four of the five competing for the two supervisors spots. Supervisor John Etheredge was absent.

Candidates’ opinions varied on how to address the needs of the jail, especially because of clear public controversy. There were numerous suggestions to focus on the courthouse annex before looking at the jail, especially in regards to financing. “I think the voters have expressed a lot of desire that we move on from the jail and focus on the courthouse, and that’s what I hope we do,” Rettig said.

She said though the courthouse should remain the priority, the jail needs serious adjustments. She said the supervisors could invest a little more than $3 million in adjustments to the jail as a temporary fix. Carberry said the jail’s needs are driven by a line of people waiting for “their day in court.” He said the county should put up the money temporarily and address immediate jail needs.

“We need to move forward with the courthouse annex,” he said. “This will eliminate the backlog of people waiting for their day in court.” Dunlap said she thinks the physical structure of the jail needs upgrades, but the supervisors need to listen to all taxpayers in the future and make some compromises, pointing out the issue has been before the voters two times at their expense.

Green-Douglass disagreed with other candidates about putting the jail on the back burner. She said she shot down the jail as a voter, but she has since changed her mind after being exposed to its current condition. “I’ve seen a variety of jails all over the country, both current and modern,” Green-Douglass said. “And it reminds me of how inadequate our jail is.”

Green-Douglass said the matter of safety is continually threatened with how frequently inmates are transferred to other jails. She said with every transport, there is a security risk. The candidates stressed the importance of utilizing voters’ civic duty, and how in this upcoming election voters should care about who represents Johnson County.

“If we all think the same way, have the same views, and have the same ideas, there would only be one of us,” Dunlap said “But that’s not the case.”

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