Johnson County votes on justice center - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Johnson County votes on justice center

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

Back in November, 56 percent of the county's voters said yes to a Justice Center, falling just short of the required 60 percent.

The new Justice Center would build a bigger jail and allow improvements to the courthouse.

The Johnson County Curthouse opened in 1901. The building has gone through some renovations since then, but workers say their current needs are not being met.

In the county clerk's office, files sit anywhere they can make space for them, but just the ones for the last couple years. Older files are off-site or in a building with a creaky floor and narrow staircases. Boxes containing evidence sit under a pipe that could leak.

Workers want Tuesday's Justice Center referendum to pass so they can spread out, get better storage and improve safety at the courthouse. For example, there are no metal detectors at the entrances, and there's a door right near the entrance to one of the courtrooms.

"There's nothing to really block them from getting out," said Janet Lyness, Johnson County Attorney. "So that's a concern that we have."

Many areas of the courthouse are not handicapped-accessible. One worker at the courthouse can't access files and people she works with.

"We just have to make sure if she's working on something for the attorneys over here that they have to take things over to her," said Lyness.

All these problems would be addressed, supporters say, if 60 percent of voters approve a plan to issue up to $43.5 million in bonds to build a new Justice Center.

Those who toured the courthouse Monday said they were voting yes and asking all of their friends to do the same.

"This is totally ridiculous," said Debbie McDowell of Iowa City.

The money would also be used to build a new jail that would fit more than double the amount of inmates in the current jail.

That's what opponents are against.

"It's pretty clear that we don't need more jail beds," said Sean Curtin with Vote No Justice Center. "We need to change our policies here in Johnson County."

Opponents say too many people are jailed in Johnson County and believe there's racial disparity when it comes to arrests.

They spent Monday evening making cold calls, hoping to defeat the Justice Center proposal.

They say they recognize the courthouse needs work and are willing to talk about fixing it. They just don't think those conversations should be included as a part of the new jail.

Polls are open Tuesday in Johnson County from 7 a.m. - 8 p.m. Nearly 3,800 people have already voted early.

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