The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Proposed Johnson County justice-center bond referendum fails to pass

The spirited debate among Johnson County voters regarding the building of a new justice center is over.

On Tuesday, 56 percent of voters voted in favor of the $46.8 million bond referendum. However, a 60 percent vote was needed in order to pass.

The bond would have funded the construction of the $48.1 million project, The Daily Iowan has previously reported.

The current jail, which was built in 1981, holds 92 inmates. Currently, an average of 160 to 170 inmates come into the jail per day. Johnson County has been paying approximately $1.3 million per year to send the extra inmates to other counties.

Donald Baxter, the founder of the Facebook group “Oppose the Johnson County Jail (‘Justice Center’)”, said changes are necessary in regards to the current jail.

“Most of us recognized that something does need to be done,” he said. “But this proposal was just too big.”

Baxter said many factors were crucial in the rejection of the proposal, such as racial disparity and economic status. He said inequality biases in the community need to be addressed by community leaders.

“It always costs more money to put people in jail,” he said. “Rich people don’t sit in jail in Johnson County. As of now, the jail is for poor people, persons of color, and students.”

Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek addressed the notion that with a new justice center, the extra space available will be used to arrest and detain minorities. In a previous interview with the DI, Pulkrabek said 7,089 people were booked into the Johnson County in the 2012 fiscal year. Approximately 23 percent of the 7,089 were identified as black, approximately 75 percent as white, and roughly 2 percent as other. He could not be reached for an interview as of Tuesday evening.

According to the Gazette, Pulkrabek said he supports the idea of putting the proposal back up for vote.

“This project, I think, is a really, really good project, so I’d like to see it tried again, but I can’t say for sure,” he said.

University of Iowa Professor Jeffrey Cox, a member of Citizens for an Alternative to the New Jail, has no doubt that an approval of the new justice center would have led to an increased number of students in the jail.

“Students are tired of over-policing,” he said. “It’s much worse here than it is at other universities.”

Cox agreed with Baxter’s sentiments, saying leaders of the community have diverted their eyes from the issue of racial inequality in Johnson County.

Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said he thought the cost factor of the proposal played a large role in its rejection.

“Obviously, we got a lot of support with 56 percent [in favor],” he said. “This just means that we’re going to have to go to Plan B. We’ve got to reassess the voters’ concerns.”

Neuzil said the Board of Supervisors will meet today at 4:30 p.m. and will speak regarding taking the next steps to formulate a new plan for a new justice center.

County Attorney Janet Lyness said she was disappointed with the result of the proposal.

“We’re going to have to spend more money to ship the inmates out [of Johnson County],” she said. “We’ve got more work to do to educate voters.”

More to Discover