Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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October 13, 2012

Sullivan’s Salvos 10/16/12 In this edition: *Justice Center *100 Grannies *Book Talks in Coralville *Seven Myths of Government Bashing, Part 3 *Did You Know? *Justice Center Johnson County residents now have the opportunity to vote yes or no on a new Justice Center. I support this measure. Here is some background: The current jail was built in 1981 to house 46 residents, which was inadequate from the start. It also was built with insufficient footings to expand vertically. The surrounding land is a high priority for the UI, so it is not available. Double bunking allowed the jail to house 92 inmates, but it does so neither adequately nor comfortably. This move also cost the jail all available space for treatment, exercise, small groups, visitations, worship, and the like. Fast forward to the present. The average daily population in 2011 exceeded 170. That means on an average day, 80-90 inmates get shipped to other counties. That leads to $1.3 million in annual expenses. Other counties charge between $45 and $70 per day to house each prisoner. Add in transportation costs, and it runs roughly $75/day to house an inmate out of county. Interestingly, it also costs roughly $75/day to house inmates in our own jail. While exact figures are extremely difficult to nail down in either instance, it is clear that the costs are very close. Problems exist with the current arrangements, however. First, transporting prisoners is a logistical nightmare. They need to appear in court frequently, and also have a right to visitors, which is hard if they are in another county. Secondly, there is not adequate room for exercise, study, religious services, or classes. These are all part of a humane and rehabilitative system for housing inmates. Finally, the current jail is also less than ideal for the deputies that work there; they are more at risk than we would like. One of the clear messages from the failed 2000 referendum was that the public expected alternatives to incarceration. This is an area where Sheriff Pulkrabek and County Attorney Lyness and their staffs have excelled. Most of the alternatives that could be used are already in place. The public has gotten what they asked for, and the results have been very positive. There are still a few more measures that can be taken, but not without more space in which to work. While positive, the results have not alleviated the overcrowding to the extent we had hoped. Alternatives eliminate an average of a few inmates per day, but when the average daily population is 170, that total is not a big enough impact to change the big picture. The biggest obstacle to more alternatives is, ironically, a lack of space. The other related issue that must not be ignored is the courthouse. The courthouse is just as crowded as the jail, and courthouse overcrowding leads to inmates waiting for court dates, thereby spending more days in jail. In addition, there are serious security issues at the current courthouse. Obviously, the current facility is on the National Register of Historic Places, so it cannot be altered too dramatically. The architecture severely limits the ability to utilize the existing building. I view the jail situation as being similar to private home ownership. If the cost of renting exceeds the cost of a mortgage, you probably ought to consider buying. Obviously, there are other factors, but if trends continue, Johnson County is certainly getting close to paying more to house prisoners elsewhere than it might cost to build and operate a new facility. The key will be not just the cost of erecting a new building, but the costs of operating said building. Right now, things look like a wash. Consider the record-low borrowing costs, and I think it is time to buy. We are often reminded that the US leads the world in the percentage of people incarcerated. But arrest rates locally are among the lowest in the nation. To those who claim, “build it and they will fill it,” I say – your argument is being proven false every day. We have nothing to fill now – yet our jail population continues to rise. No officer on the scene of a crime stops to think about jail bed availability. They don’t do it now, and they won’t do it with a new facility. The jail population is related to three things: population growth, federal and state laws, and the economy. Johnson County has little control over any of these factors. The bottom line is, most residents use neither the jail nor the courthouse. For most residents of Johnson County, the jail and courthouse are simply expenses. I hope these folks see that we are doing what we can to take control of our costs. We need the safety, security, and space that would come with a new Justice Center. I am voting yes, and I hope you will do the same! *100 Grannies The Board recently entertained a presentation from a local group called “100 Grannies For a Livable Future”. This group of women is a local chapter of a national organization that has banded together to work on environmental issues. The group is not limited to 100, and any woman “of a certain maturity” is welcome! For more info, see or call 351-4380. *Book Talks in Coralville The UNESCO City of Literature organization is hosting another round of Book Talks on Wednesday, October 17 from noon-1pm at the Coralville Public Library. Presenters will include: Rex Brandstatter, RE/MAX; Megan Flanagan, Coralville Center for Performing Arts; Bill Hoeft, Coralville City Council; Keith Jones, Hills Bank; Margaret McCaffrey, wife of Hawkeye Basketball Coach Fran McCaffrey; Christine Scheetz, United Way of Johnson County; Ryan West, West Music. The event is free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch. The City of Literature will provide drinks and dessert. The event is sponsored by Willis and Willis/Security Abstract Company. The first Community Book Talk was held at the Iowa City Public Library in April. It can be viewed on City Channel 4′s web site. *Seven Myths of Government Bashing A friend recently sent me a great piece by Gail Cohen entitled “Seven Myths of Government Bashing”. I like this piece so much that I have decided to divide it into seven parts and run it in Salvos. Today, Part 3: CLAIM: Government can’t do anything right. ANSWER: Everything you do is protected by government. We drive on paved highways, eat food, drink water, breath air and take medicines that are relatively safe, and contain ingredients that bear some similarity to what’s on the label, all because of government. The dealer who sold you a car can’t sell you a lemon, because of government. The restaurant you eat at, can’t serve you spoiled food, because of government. We live in homes that are built according to legal codes, codes that punish builders who use shoddy workmanship and toxic materials. These benefits also come from government. We are paid regular wages by employers who are obligated to do so by law. Because of government oversight, the policeman who pulls you over can’t punch you in the stomach just because he’s in a bad mood. When we go to the hospital, we are treated according to standards that carry the force of regulations that come from government. When we hire a lawyer, he or she must do the same, or risk disbarment. The elderly among us are not obliged to beg, or die in the streets when they get sick, because a government program takes care of them. When we turn on the radio or TV, the airwaves broadcast as expected. Programs not suitable for families are labeled accordingly, and aired only when the kids are (supposed to be) in bed. Despite all our complaints, our lives are improved greatly by that evil boogeyman, “government,” the institution we love to hate, those mousy regulators that are the butt of everyone’s jokes. These faceless, plodding, uninspiring bureaucrats that we endlessly make fun of, actually make it so that our lives run relatively smoothly. *DID YOU KNOW? When the Johnson County Jail was built, the county population was 80,000. It is now 135,000. When the Johnson County Courthouse was built, the county population was 24,000. Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website- "Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents. These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned. If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line. If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at with "subscribe" in the subject line. As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you! ---Rod


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