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See why Scott County may now spend $10M in COVID funds for larger juvenile detention
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Scott County Juvenile Detention Center

See why Scott County may now spend $10M in COVID funds for larger juvenile detention

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Construction of new juvenile detention space could now account for nearly one-third of the roughly $33.6 million Scott County will receive in federal COVID-19 rescue dollars, according to a tentative spending plan.

Scott County supervisors met Monday to discuss and prioritize recommended projects that would be funded through the money received as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Topping the list was a recommendation to use a portion of the federal rescue dollars to partially pay for more than doubling the size of the county's 18-bed juvenile detention facility.

County staff had initially recommended -- and supervisors had tentatively agreed -- to using an estimated $4.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds toward building a new, 40-bed Juvenile Detention Center, with the ability to accommodate future expansion to up to 60 beds. 

The facility is estimated to cost $16.8 million to build and an additional $600,000 to $1 million a year to staff.

Supervisors on Monday, however, signaled support for more than doubling the ARPA allocation, up to a possible $10 million, based on pending legislation in Congress that would provide local governments broader discretion for how they utilize the federal grant dollars.

Republican Scott County Supervisor Tony Knobbe said the county's Juvenile Detention Center -- built in 1980 and subsequently expanded in 1987, 1994 and 2003 -- is outdated and has reached the end of its useful life.

As such, "we will be building a new facility at some point in the near future anyway," Knobbe said. "Here's an opportunity for federal funding" to lessen the impact on county property taxpayers to build a larger, modern facility.

"I certainly support the notion of maximizing the use of this" to reduce the property tax burden to Scott County residents, Knobbe said.

Fellow Republican Scott County supervisors Ken Beck and John Maxwell agreed.

Democratic Supervisors Ken Croken and Brinson Kinzer objected.

Croken argued the federal dollars are be used to "restore the economic stability of communities, businesses and people who have been adversely affected" by the ongoing pandemic, "not to reduce taxes on those who are paying taxes."

"We do all believe that the current Juvenile Detention Center is just shy of appalling, and we need a new facility," Croken said.  "But, this is not about the importance of the project, it's about the use of ARPA dollars to support the project. ... The questions is, 'How do we fund it?' Customarily, if we didn't have ARPA money, we'd have a community referendum."

Kinzer said he is opposed to using additional federal rescue dollars beyond the initially agreed upon $4.5 million to build a new 40-bed facility.

"We owe it to staff (and juveniles being detained) to build a safe facility" that responds to COVID concerns, Kinzer said. "They deserve to be safe and we need to have a facility that can provide that."

County officials have said a larger detention facility providing more physical separation of personnel, contractors and juveniles would aid detention staff in meeting pandemic operational needs and implementing COVID-19 mitigation tactics in congregate settings, including incarceration settings, which is an allowed use under current federal guidelines.

That, county staff have said, would include space for a medical suite and to isolate COVID-positive juveniles from others to prevent possible outbreaks, as well as eliminate the use of double bunking and provide improved air handling and ventilation.

The discussion to "maximize" federal grant dollars for a new detention center came after supervisors listened to a dozen individuals speak for nearly 25 minutes in opposition to using COVID-19 rescue funds for expanded juvenile detention.

"To me, this is a moral issue," said Rev. Jay Wolin of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad-Cities. "I really feel the money should go to help people; not incarcerate people. I also believe we should use this money ... to go upstream to solve" issues contributing to youth crime, including poverty.

The head of a state juvenile justice planning agency and a national expert have said a 40-bed facility is unnecessary and out of step with state and national trends and best practices that focus on reducing youth incarceration.

Over the past five years, Scott County has housed an average of 25 juveniles per day between the jail and juvenile detention center, with peaks of up to nearly 40 juveniles.

County officials face a Dec. 18 deadline under a state and federal mandate that any youth awaiting trial as an adult, with limited exceptions, be removed from jail, necessitating further need for more space at the Juvenile Detention Center, JDC Director Jeremy Kaiser has said.

When the JDC reaches capacity, the county must spend money to house youths in facilities in other counties.

Critics contend Scott County's youth population -- those ages 10 to 17 years old -- is in decline, and youth incarceration numbers have dropped from a spike in 2019, thanks in part to the success of diversion programs. They argue building and operating an oversized detention facilities will only fuel the existing disproportionate incarceration of young people of color and high number of Scott County youth waived to adult court.

The facility was recommended by county staff and county-hired consulting firm Wold Architects and Engineers, based on input from a community advisory group convened by Wold. The advisory group included a Scott County judge; local law enforcement; juvenile court and detention officials; and representatives from St. Ambrose University, NAACP, LULAC, Scott County Kids, Davenport Community School District and the Scott County Attorney's Office to address overcrowding and long-term juvenile detention capacity needs.

However, at least one member of the advisory group has said the 40-bed proposal presented to supervisors did not reflect the group's consensus. 

Wold also presented county officials with a secondary option for a new 24- to 28-bed facility -- with the possibility for future expansion -- which state juvenile justice planning officials, the Davenport NAACP and local pastors recommend.

Wolin and other Scott County residents who spoke Monday argue resources would be more effectively invested in affordable housing and preventative and supportive services for families that keep young people safe, secure, engaged, productive and out of the court system.

Scott County made a five-year, $700,000 commitment to the newly launched Youth Assessment Program, aimed at connecting youth and families to preventative behavioral and mental health services to lower juvenile crime.

Michael Guster, president of the Davenport NAACP, argues the county's investment represents "just a drop in the bucket.

"It’s not a good faith effort to try to keep kids out of jail," Guster said Monday.

Other recommended projects that received a high priority ranking from supervisors include:

  • $11.4 million for storm sewer and related road improvements in Park View and $5 million for similar improvements at Mt. Joy
  • $3 million to help Humility Homes and Services, Inc. offer supportive housing, case management services and rent assistance to assist people facing chronic homelessness during the pandemic
  • $3 million to provide improved air handling and ventilation equipment at the county administration building in downtown Davenport
  • $1.6 million toward the expansion of existing sanitary sewer to enable a West Locust Street business park corridor for future commercial development. The city of Davenport has begun the planning process of designating more than 700 acres at Interstate 280 and Locust Street for a business park.
  • $500,000 to support local tourism

Supervisors are scheduled to meet again at 9 a.m. Nov. 22 to further refine the spending plan.

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