The League of Women Voters of Johnson County strongly endorses passage of the proposed May 7 Justice Center Bond Referendum. The League has long believed that open and responsive local governments should provide their citizens with excellent public services and plan for public safety including police, fire, ambulance and jails. We also believe that elected officials must recognize the county’s changing demographics, the need for increased services, and have a vision for the future. The proposed new Justice Center shows that those putting forth the issue have that vision.
Not even opponents of the bond issue deny that we sorely need to build a new courthouse and jail. Their argument — wrongly — is that the County first needs to address the issue of disparity in incarceration rates among races. This disparity needs to be addressed, of course, but delaying the building of a new justice center is not going to solve it. Disproportionate incarceration of minorities is a major problem that goes far beyond Johnson County. It reaches across the state and nation as well.
Opponents fail to address the real need for new courtrooms and space for educational opportunities and mental health and substance abuse programs. The safety and security of those involved in the judicial process — judges, attorneys, law enforcement personnel, AND citizens — also needs to be improved, and this issue is addressed in the plans.
New space is needed for jail alternative programs, substance abuse programs, mental health programs, and educational programs so we can help break the cycle of antisocial behavior and incarceration. Transporting the overflow of inmates to other counties often makes it hard for families to visit them. Eliminating the transporting of inmates also eliminates the time, risks and costs (over $1 million a year) of transporting them.
The League of Women Voters suggests that those who have not toured the courthouse or jail do so to see for themselves the problems that are facing Johnson County. Those who do will recognize the needs that exist. And, we encourage everyone to vote “YES” for the Justice Center bond issue on May 7.