Among the most significant increases to the 2020 Scott County budget now under consideration is a proposed staff expansion at the Sheriff’s Department. Specifically, the request includes hiring four deputies, one correctional officer, a sex offender registry specialist as well as the authority to "over-hire" additional correctional staff. The total annual cost is about $525,000. I will vote "yes" and I want the taxpayers to know why. After all, it’s their money.
Let’s start with Scott County jail and corrections staff. Because of ongoing guard shortages, today Scott County taxpayers pay nearly $375,000 each year in overtime to corrections staff. Moreover, mandatory overtime -- combined with the difficult and dangerous nature of the work itself -- results in significant staff turnover costs, such as recruitment and training. Time will tell what the net cost of additional hiring will be. But, I am confident it will be considerably less than the "sticker price." More importantly, safety for our jail staff needs to be our top priority. I’ve toured the jail and seen the danger, first-hand.
Speaking of safety, let’s focus now on the requested increase in the number of deputies. Today Scott County ranks highest in violent crime among Clinton, Johnson, Linn, Muscatine and Polk counties. In fact, our violent crime rate is higher than the national average. One can question the currency or accuracy of the statistics. But, there’s no arguing the point: We must do better. And, I’m certain we will do better if we invest wisely and narrow our public safety focus on a handful of strategic, measurable goals.
By aligning closely specific goals with our budget process, we can deliver quantifiable public safety value and separate facts from feelings.
Crime is a countywide concern and we need a comprehensive approach to combat the growing threat. Hiring more deputies is a sensible response. But, it’s not a solution. So, along with my support of the sheriff’s budget request, I also will ask that the county staff to develop a broad and collaborative plan to address the causes as well as the consequence of crime. I would like to see this plan put together and presented to the board by the time we begin to draft our next fiscal budget. It is my hope that, rather than just reacting to our present situation, we will have potential solutions to consider that would deal with the underlying causes.
What would that plan look like? Again, let’s start with the jail. How can we begin to reduce the number of inmates, rather than simply continue to increase the number of guards?
There are innovative programs, such as the Mental Health Court pilot, that have demonstrated how we can save taxpayer money and restore lost lives with an investment in mental wellness. There are too many in jail for being ill. And, we also need to work with the governor and General Assembly to bring about some common-sense reform of mandatory sentencing and pre-trial release guidelines. There are too many in jail who have not and will not be convicted of a crime.
Consider this. The rate of incarceration in Iowa jails has nearly quadrupled since the 1980s. In response, Scott County taxpayers committed nearly $30 million in 2007 to expand the existing jail. But, last month the Scott County jail population was again over-capacity at a record high of 369 inmates. Now, let’s do the math. Multiply 369 inmates by $86, the estimated average daily cost per inmate. Then, multiply that number by 365 days a year. Scott County must be more proactive in all aspects of public safety; we can’t afford otherwise. The financial, social and economic impact is too high.