To the editor:
Regarding the June 8 Courthouse bond election, there is one point on which most citizens seem to agree. Clay County needs a new jail. Those accused of violating the law deserve to be treated with respect, to be safe, to be segregated by gender and other classifications, and to have access to fresh air and exercise. But do we really need to double our jail cells—and can we afford the extravagance of doubling space for law enforcement, courts and government offices?
A majority of residents surveyed think Clay County’s historic Courthouse should be preserved and upgraded, not abandoned to an uncertain fate. After all, the first architectural study concluded that, while repairs and updates are needed, the courthouse and the public safety center are in “relatively good condition,” and have “many years of life remaining.”
Our population is growing by less than one percent per year; yet voters are asked to abandon the courthouse and build everything new, twice as big!
According to the jail study, the 6-year average occupancy in the present jail was 75 percent. When the consultants visited our mostly-white county, 57 percent of inmates were people of color, which jailers said was not unusual. Don’t we need to ask why? The jail population is sometimes determined by “the outcome of a bond schedule.” Does that mean that low-income people are more likely to remain in jail? What less expensive and less harmful alternatives to jail do we employ? Do we offer adequate counseling, drug treatment, probation, diversion, electronic monitoring that allows people to continue to work and support their families, the option of restorative justice? Shouldn’t we be looking for ways to put fewer people in jail, not more?
After answering these and other questions, we should design and build a new jail, on county-owned land adjacent to the courthouse. And let’s invest in the proper maintenance and adaptation to save our beautiful historic Courthouse. Yes, that means rejecting the current bond issue and devising a better plan. Do as our ancestors did: protect what you have, and build what you really need and can afford.