A Jail Expansion is Not the Answer

Ten questions you should ask yourself before voting on jail expansion

1. Should your vote matter?

The Douglas County Commission has repeatedly claimed that there is a legal obligation to expand the jail. But the Journal World recently reported that no such legal obligation exists. The Commission doubled down. They have said they intend to build the jail regardless of the election outcome and make no provision for mental health improvement which people universally want.

2. Should we reward playing politics when it comes to mental health care?

The Douglas County Commission has known for years that the public is opposed to having a jail expansion and the mental health campus tied together as one ballot question. Yet, the Commission refuses to allow voters the option of weighing each project on its individual merits.

3. Why is the progressive college town of Iowa City locking up 60% fewer in jail although their population is 20,000 higher than Douglas County’s?

In spite enormous pressure and absolute denial that more reforms and alternatives would ever be possible, Iowa City voters said NO to jail expansion three times. Every time they did, the criminal justice system discovered ways to safely reduce the number of people in their jail. Last year, their jail population plummeted to less than 100 a night, while Douglas County’s jail population quietly grew to lock up 237 people on average each night.

4. Shouldn’t we invest fully in safe, effective alternatives before spending 163 million to fund greater incarceration?

Criminal justice reform experts have deemed the local jail the “front door to mass incarceration” because spending even a short time in jail can lead to loss of jobs, transportation, and family connections, thus increasing a person’s chances of further contact with the criminal justice system. The most compassionate response to the over-crowding problem is to fully invest in prevention, alternatives, and other system reforms that would safely decrease the jail population. Such ideas have not been fully explored or given time to work in Douglas County. Instead we are hastily called on to spend tens of millions to nearly double the capacity to lock up more people.

5. Shouldn’t we understand what’s driving our high rate of minority incarceration before risking contributing to the historic tragedy of mass incarceration?

The Douglas County Commission was advised by its own experts in July 2016 to inquire into “alleviating the disproportionate confinement of people of color” in our jail. The Commission moved forward with a proposed jail expansion before even beginning a serious inquiry, as requested.

6. Who’s making money on this expansion?

The Douglas County Commission accepted Treanor Architects’ claim that construction costs increased by 46% within an 18-month period. So instead of 30 million, the jail expansion would cost 44 million. With Treanor’s fees for services tied to final construction costs, their commission jumped a million as well. The County Commission never questioned the dramatic rise in construction costs.

7. Why do the “selling points” to expand our jail sound eerily familiar to those used in other counties?

Treanor Architects has a webpage that outlines the strategies to win voter approval for unpopular jail expansions: www.treanorhl.com/thinking/building-public-support-jail-projects. The same strategies used elsewhere have been fully employed right here to try to convince us to approve this unwise jail expansion.

8. If we know that expanding the jail would require both a sales tax and property tax hike, why isn’t this made clear on the ballot and in the county’s campaign literature?

Although knowledge of the half cent sales tax is widely known, it’s virtually unknown to the average voter that this will only cover part of the jail operations. The County Commission’s estimates that a 3.81 mill increase in property tax would be required later on top of the sales tax to pay for jail operations – all permanent taxes to pay for a greater incarceration footprint.

 9. Why wasn’t a regional Crisis Center model considered?

The Crisis Center in Kansas City, MO provides crisis treatment and sobering beds for a service area six times the population of Douglas County. People seeking care from Franklin, Miami, and Jefferson counties will undoubtedly seek services in Douglas County. Why didn’t we approach these counties to provide financial support for care?

10. Why wasn’t the State of Kansas asked to financially support the Crisis Center campus?

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disabilities has financially supported the creation of four Crisis Centers throughout the state, but were never asked to contribute to the Douglas County plan.


Let’s create a justice system that reflects the values of Douglas County: restoration over incarceration.

View and print the JailNo Fact Sheet here: JailNo.org Fact Sheet