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Jail program saves county thousands

BY CHRISTIAN HAHN | SEPTEMBER 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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Although the Johnson County Jail will see some updates in the coming year, it will continue to be overpopulated. The jail-alternative program assists in keeping jail population smaller.

Last week, Jessica Peckover, the county’s jail-alternative coordinator, described the savings program has had since its inception in 2008 as well as for fiscal 2014.

According to the update for the jail-alternative program since its inception, the program has saved the county more than $2.3 million worth of jail bed days.

Additionally, the program has aided in saving money by preventing law violations, lawsuits, psychiatric hospitalizations, and committals.

“Even if it didn’t save us a penny, it would still be a good program because we need to help people in a better way than we already do, and this program does that,” Supervisor Rod Sullivan said last week.

The program saves the county $421,000 per year, Supervisor Janelle Rettig said, and it only costs $180,000.

Peckover said part of her job is to help assess people and explore people’s needs.

“It’s enjoyable to be able to help people make better lives,” she said. “It improves the community wellness and public safety, so it’s nice to be able to do those things.”

Rettig said she believes the program gets better each year. The collaboration among groups is growing.

“I think that’s paying dividends for us,” she said. “We can see that and can actually quantify that. There’s some other things we can be doing, and I would anticipate that in the coming years, the program will grow.”

Even with the program in place, the county jail continues to be overcrowded.

County officials meet to review everyone on the jail roster to see who can be removed, whether that means the inmate can be inducted into a housing program or a treatment facility.

The building of the courthouse annex could mean reduction of jail population as well.

With the addition of new courtrooms and another judge, trials could take place in a more expedited manner. Quicker trials would cut down on time spent in jail and, ultimately, the jail’s population.

An average case awaits trial for anywhere from 90 to 120 days, County Attorney Janet Lyness said, and in civil cases, it can take two to three years.

“We would hope that speedy trials would decrease [jail] population,” she said.

Currently, the jail roster has 124 inmates listed; the jail capacity is 92.

“One of the things to keep in mind is that the jail was built for 46 inmates, so all of the support systems were built for 46,” Rettig said. “Very rarely can they get to 92 inmates because they have to isolate women from men and isolate those with mental health issues. The sheriff’s office prefers to keep it lower.”

Inmates for whom Johnson County cannot make accommodations are sent to Muscatine County Jail as part of an agreement between the two counties.

“You can take inmates and move them somewhere else, though it’s not the best option financially speaking for the county or for the inmates and their families,” Rettig said.

With area residents voting down building a new jail in recent years, the courthouse-annex project is expected to move ahead, while the jail remains in its current state.

Rettig said there is slightly under $2 million worth of work to be done on the jail.

Because technology used in the jail is 30 years old, the county plans to install new security cameras and locking systems, in addition to repairing the roof and installing a new backup generator.


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