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

Johnson County officials continue discussions on future of county jail

The jail has been in declining condition for years, leading to discussions on what to do next.
Cody Blissett
Captain John Good shows an overnight sobering cell during a tour of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office on April 20, 2023. Good explained that sometimes multiple inmates at a time have to sleep on the floor.

Discussions between Johnson County officials are ongoing over the potential renovation or reconstruction of the county jail.

At the Johnson County Board of Supervisors work session on Aug. 23, a presentation from Axiom Consultants and the Johnson County Sheriff showed that the jail was in poor condition.

The jail, located at 511 S. Capital St. was first built in 1981 and has received a few updates over the years. Despite this, its prolonged use has come at a time when the county is growing, leading to increased needs, along with its general age also factoring in its declining condition.

Axiom listed a number of “significant deficiencies,” including issues with the exterior wall and facade system and signs of initial failure of some of the supporting structural elements. 

A final report was issued by project management company Faithful + Gould that rated the sheriff’s office and jail at 104.8 percent, and the company considers anything rated over 60 percent to be in very poor condition and “should be considered for demolition.” 

The report also revealed that it would cost more to repair the jail than it would to build a new facility. The current replacement value is $4.5 million, and the building would need $5.73 million in repair. 

A bond referendum has been put up to vote and failed by voters three times since 2012. The vote failed to make a supermajority each time, which is 60 percent of voters. Each time the bond referendum was presented on a ballot, 56 percent, 54 percent, and 57 percent of voters approved a new jail in 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively. 

The 56 percent vote came in 2012, a vote which came 4 percent short of the needed amount to create what was dubbed a “justice center.”

Johnson County Board of Supervisors Chair Lisa Green-Douglass said the county needs to find a way to build a new jail. 

RELATED: Staff at the county sheriff’s office learn to adapt to the building’s poor condition

Because of a lack of space, the Johnson County Jail buses 20-25 prisoners a day to facilities in Henry County. The average daily population of the jail is 90 inmates. The jail also has 98 full-time employees and four part-time transport drivers who are subject to the conditions of the jail. 

Vice Chair Rod Sullivan said the county spends an average of $1.5 million a year transporting prisoners to other facilities. 

“We’d like to spend that money in other ways,” Sullivan said. 

Ongoing issue

Previously, during a work session in the spring, the county was made aware of the extent of the jail’s condition after it had completed a facility audit of county-owned buildings.

Dave Curtis, facilities director for Johnson County at the time, told the DI in April that the condition of the building was due to age and a need for updates.

The building audit showed that the jail was among the worst county buildings in terms of conditions. 

According to the audit, costs for maintenance and repair would reach roughly $2.9 million over the next few years to address the immediate needs of the building.


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About the Contributors
Alejandro Rojas
Alejandro Rojas, News Editor
Alejandro Rojas is The Daily Iowan's news editor. He previously worked as a news reporter covering Johnson County and was the summer executive editor in 2023. He is a senior, double majoring in journalism and political science.
Roxy Ekberg
Roxy Ekberg, Politics Reporter
Roxy Ekberg is a first year at the University of Iowa. In the Honors Program, she is double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. Prior to her role as a politics reporter, she worked news reporter at the Daily Iowan and worked at her local newspaper The Wakefield Republican.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.