Thursday, January 03, 2013

Justice Center 2 Looks Like May

 Justice Center Round Two has moved up the charts. While official action hasn't happened, county officials are targeting a May 7 election date.

Personally, I was hoping for November, to put it on the same ballot with city council members. That way, the justice center, and the related issues of Iowa City law enforcement policy, would be central to the city council races. But the needs are more urgent, and the costs and interest rates have nowhere to go but up. So I expect to support this again -- but there's still a lot of opportunity for dialogue during the campaign.

The basic plan is similar - a new jail-court room facility on the west side of the old courthouse - but with some changes. Some of the courtrooms and cell space will be unfinished ("shelled in") and capacity on opening would be 195 beds, down from the 243 in the November proposal. The revised plan would improve the exterior aesthetics of the new facility, a move that also trimmed the costs.

The design changes, and additional money from county reserves, would lower the ballot sticker price to $43.5 million, down from $46.8 million in November.

Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek and County Attorney Janet Lyness both emphasized that practical capacity would be less than the number of beds because of security, turnover, and requirements to separate men and women. They also detailed the too often below the radar efforts to process people quickly, getting them out of jail faster or keeping them out in the first place.

So. Cost and aesthetics. That touches two of the three big critiques from last November. What about the Larger Justice System Questions?

I heard the beginnings of a critique of city and university law enforcement at yesterday's meeting, but it was too veiled for my tastes. More along the lines of "we share the concerns about disproportionate minority contact" where I'd be more likely to say "the Iowa City Police Department defeated this in November, clean up your act."

But there's still not official critiques of some of the bad laws themselves. It was the minority contact issue came up, rather than the drug war and drinking age.

The legislative session and the campaign effort are at the same time. Perfect opportunity for elected officials to go on record and lobby the legislature for changes.

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