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Editorial: Building public support

Editorial: Building public support

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Scott County Juvenile Detention Center

The Scott County Juvenile Detention Center.

By all appearances, plans for a new 40-bed Juvenile Detention Center in Scott County are falling into place.

A little more than a week ago, the committee looking into this issue recommended the Scott County Board of Supervisors move ahead with a 40-bed facility.

The board hasn’t officially made the call yet, but this week, financing options will be brought forward, and members of the committee were eager to move ahead with preliminary design work. A site hasn't been announced.

We still want to learn more about this proposal, but we are happy to see the committee is not talking about a 64-bed facility, which was contemplated two years ago.

Regardless of size, however, building new detention space is a controversial proposition these days. (The idea is to have a 40-bed facility, but the facility also would be able to expand to 60 beds, if needed. We would like to learn more about the implications of this option).

We have heard plenty from people in our community who want to see a greater emphasis on preventive measures rather than simply providing more detention space.

We are sympathetic to those calls.

For years, we’ve been hearing about a Juvenile Assessment Center that would be aimed at heading off problems before they demand the attention of police and the courts. Scott County Board Chairman Ken Beck said during the presentation that the county had made a soft commitment toward supporting such a center, but the City of Davenport is taking the lead. Davenport already has committed $1 million for such an initiative.

Sarah Ott, chief strategy officer for the city, told us last week an announcement is likely to be made in a month about what is now being called a Youth Assessment Program. The city, through United Way Quad-Cities, sought proposals, and it is working on a contract with an organization she did not identify.

The idea, Ott said, is to commit to seed funding for five years, along with Scott County and Bettendorf, for a program that would serve an estimated 300-400 individuals per year. Services could begin being provided later this summer.

In other words, it sounds as if the city is getting closer to providing details on an assessment program that for far too long has been more concept than reality.

We have high hopes for such an effort. Diversion programs work. Even the committee studying the Juvenile Detention Center options noted in its presentation that programs already in place have had an impact on keeping people out of detention.

Still, no formal announcement has been made by the City of Davenport yet. There also are questions about where these assessment services should be provided. Michael Guster, president of the NAACP in Davenport, talks about providing services at The Lincoln Center, where he says there is trust in the Black community.

To us, that sounds like an idea worth exploring.

Moving forward on an expansion of the Juvenile Detention Center, which now is only licensed for 18 beds, may be an option worth pursuing. Officials say that later this year, they will have to move kids now being held in the Scott County Jail awaiting trial out of that facility because of federal requirements. And, according to the committee, the average daily need rises above the current facility’s capacity. The committee included representatives from the county, the court system, as well as the NAACP and LULAC.

We all know our community is seeing greater dangers these days. Like many, we have been alarmed at the rise in gun violence. And if the addition of more detention space makes our streets safer – for everybody – then this may be the way to go.

The committee making this recommendation has done a lot of work, and clearly this group believes an expansion is needed; now it is up to our elected leaders to do their work and, if they agree, make the case to the people.

One way to do it would be to finance this expansion, at least in part, with a bond referendum, which requires public approval. That is what has happened in the past. But we've been told a bond referendum may not be needed to build this facility.

That gives us pause. Expanding jails and detention facilities, whether for adults or kids, is a serious proposition and a bond referendum, while risky, is one way to get broad public input and support. If there is a way to solicit this kind of public opinion other than by referendum, we are open to ideas. The point is: This is an important decision that deserves a lot of discussion in the community.

The county board has a decision to make, but it is then that their work on this issue should truly begin.


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