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Scott County officials consider whether to invest in new restorative justice programs or spend more on existing ones

Quad City Times - 7/10/2019

Jul. 10--Scott County's plan to install new restorative justice programs may not happen after all, as some leaders in the county's justice system say the money would be better spent on initiatives and programs already underway.

County Supervisor Ken Croken is reconsidering his proposal to have the county conduct a formal study to identify new restorative justice programs. At the county board meeting Tuesday, Croken proposed the board direct staff to identify possible consultants to identify new programs to help slow or eliminate the growing populations at the county's jail and juvenile detention center.

The suggestion comes two weeks after another consultant's study identified the need for Scott County to build a new juvenile detention center and renovate its county jail to increase capacity and meet the growing demand.

"We've got a plan to increase the number of jail cells," Croken said in a prepared statement. "Now let's develop the plan to reduce the number of inmates and then compare the two for cost and benefit."

But one by one, speakers representing the courts, detention center, mental health and the county's top prosecutor all said programs are in place and new efforts are underway across the system aimed at reducing the jail population and recidivism.

After the meeting, Croken said he now wants to propose creation of a task force to study the issue as opposed to hiring a consultant.

"We're trying to make some differences, and there are some things we can do," Judge Mark Fowler told supervisors. He said scheduling changes are moving cases along faster, efforts are underway to reduce the backlog of juvenile car theft cases, and other incremental changes are being implemented.

But a lack of resources has ended other programs.

"We used to have pretrial release people working at night," he said. "We don't do that now. People sit in jail until they see a judge in the morning."

Fowler said the county used to have 13 beds assigned to it at the state's training school, which is the most severe punishment for a juvenile, and now has 10. "We have kids sitting in detention that are waiting for someone to leave the state training school so we can fill the spot that is ours.

"You can do a study, but our resources are dwindling," he added. "I can tell you that, the juvenile court officer can tell you that. I don't think you need a study to learn that. I think we need to do the most we can with what we have available to us."

County Attorney Mike Walton said the county should focus on issues it has the ability to address and recognize the broader issues "are too large for any of us to solve."

He told the board the jail posts photos online every day of the inmates incarcerated. "I would invite anybody to look at that and tell me who is in there that you think shouldn't be."

Jeremy Kaiser, the juvenile detention center director, told the board that locally a number of community-based programs have been created and others are just taking root such as an Auto Theft Accountability program that brings juveniles who commit car thieves and their victims face-to-face.

"I would encourage this group to think about and learn more about what we're doing before we go and spend more money (on a study) about what else we can be doing," he said. "I don't want anyone thinking we're sitting on our hands saying 'Hey, let's build a bigger detention center and that's going to solve all our problems. No, that is not our goal."

He also was critical of statistics Croken quoted about Iowa's high incarceration rate and race disparity in the jails.

"Your statements are an absolute criticism of the system, a criticism of law enforcement and a criticism of the judicial system," Kaiser said. "And I don't think it's warranted."

Walton added that he has one full-time staff member whose job it is to see if jail time can be reduced for offenders. "There are people, unfortunately, who should be in jail for the safety of the rest of us."

Calling today's juveniles "the most violent" he's seen in his career, he said, "Incarceration is not the goal. It is the last resort, but necessary many times."

Croken assured the group that "none of this as meant as criticism" to what is being done currently. "But could more be done with more resources?" he asked.

Supervisor Ken Beck also criticized the need for another study when the same information is available from the local professionals.

"You need money to institute the programs that are currently going plus some of the new programs that are coming," he said.


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