In spite of alternatives to incarceration, studies of case processing, and bail reforms, Douglas County has seen in the last few years:
- An explosion in the number of people incarcerated (the rate of jail population growth is 12 times that of general population growth);
- A persistent commitment among public officials to expand our jail over the vote that defeated a jail expansion in May, 2018; and
- An everlasting disproportionate number of vulnerable populations incarcerated (17-25% of the inmate population identifies as African-American when just 4.6% of Douglas County's population identifies as such; female incarceration has doubled over the past five years; 22% of the inmate population suffers from mental illness; and 80% of those locked up have not been charged with a violent crime).
Douglas county voters rejected a jail expansion proposal during a special election called by the Douglas County Commission on May 14, 2018. Commissioners now plan to re-purpose the cash from a sales tax that county voters approved in 1994 to debt-fund an expansion of the jail. They also intend to raise property taxes to pay for day-to-day operations. Neither of these actions require voter approval under state law.
A July 10 article in the Lawrence Journal World suggests that use of the 1994 sales tax to fund jail expansion is found in the 2019 budget (quote from the article published on July 10, 2019):
One of the most costly budget requests this year, however, likely won’t cost taxpayers an extra dime over last year’s budget. The approximately $431,000 request from the district attorney’s office and Criminal Justice Services would create a drug court, which would aim to divert nonviolent drug offenders from jail and offer support for substance use recovery.
That new initiative would have increased the mill levy by 0.3 additional mills; however, the commission’s consensus on Wednesday was to take the money from cuts to the 2019 budget that are intended to debt-fund an expansion of the Douglas County Jail.
Justice Matters will be meeting with the Interim County Administrator to understand several matters:
- How much money is available in the 2019 and 2020 budget to debt-fund a jail expansion?
- Is the 1994 sales tax the only funding revenue the County is relying on to cover the bond?
- When is the County expected to vote to issue a bond to cover the jail expansion?
- Is the county relying on the 1994 referendum language alone for the authority to issue the bond?
- What is the estimated property tax increase to pay for the operations at the jail in the event it is expanded?
- Commissioner Thellman was quoted in the paper as saying, "the county has taken on a lot of alternatives to incarceration in a short time, and after the drug court gets up and running, it might be a good idea to step back and see how the various programs are working." Does her statement suggest that an expansion may be postponed to give time to understand the impact of the alternatives?
- Is DA Branson's suggestion to expand drug treatment options in order to broaden the impact of the drug court a consideration the County will be considering before expansion?
These and other questions will be the topic of our discussion with Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky. All Justice Matters leaders are encouraged to attend.
- 9 am - 10 am: Prepare at Aimees Coffeehouse (1025 Massachusetts)
- 10 - 11 am: Meet with Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky in the Douglas County Courthouse (11th/Massachusetts)
- July 29, 2019 at 9am – 11am
Aimees Coffess Shop
1025 Massachusetts St
Lawrence, KS 66044
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