Opponents of Douglas County Jail expansion not assuaged by cheaper plan

January 21, 2019. Lawrence Journal-World.

After Douglas County staff trimmed a cost estimate for an expansion of the local jail by $21 million, the most outspoken opponents to the first plan have not changed their tune.

Several local groups formed the Jail No coalition last March to oppose a May 2018 ballot question — Proposition 1 — that asked voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to fund behavioral health services and a $44 million expansion of the jail. In the election, voters defeated the measure 53 percent to 47 percent, or by more than 1,500 votes.

Restorative justice events planned to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.

January 19, 2019. Lawrence Journal-World.

Ben MacConnell understands the dangers of attaching opinions on a modern issue to someone who can’t speak for himself, but he believes Martin Luther King Jr. would be a strong proponent of criminal justice reform.

“Given the billions of dollars we’re spending on jails and prisons, and the fact that more people of color are incarcerated than there were slaves at the height of slavery, he would be looking at this and, I think, want to spend a lot of time focused on it,” MacConnell said.

Editorial: Best decision on mental health

August 19, 2018. Lawrence Journal-World.

The Douglas County Commission made the right decision in choosing to seek a quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund the construction and operation of a mental health campus.

The county’s other options included a half-cent sales tax increase and a combination of sales and property taxes. The quarter-cent sales tax gives the mental health campus the best chance of success.

The mental health campus includes plans for a 20,000-square-foot crisis center with sobering and detoxification units, transitional housing for those with behavioral health issues and funding for new mental health services.

Douglas County to put quarter-cent sales tax for behavioral health projects on November ballot

August 15, 2018. Lawrence Journal-World.

The Douglas County Commission agreed Wednesday to ask voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to build a behavioral health campus and fund enhanced mental health and substance abuse programming.

If approved by voters in November, the quarter-cent sales tax will raise an estimated $4.9 million annually. That is $885,000 less than the amount needed to build the campus and fund the programming envisioned in Proposition 1, a ballot question county voters rejected in May.

Editorial: Mental health center on ballot

July 20, 2018. Lawrence Journal-World.

Douglas County commissioners are right to support a ballot initiative asking voters to approve funding for a behavioral health campus and expanded mental health programming.

The issue, which still must be finalized, will be on the ballot in November. The move follows voters’ rejection in May of a half-cent sales tax proposal that would have funded both an expanded Douglas County Jail as well as the behavioral health campus.

That contentious vote failed in large part due to organized opposition from groups like Justice Matters that supported the mental health campus but were staunchly opposed to the expanded jail. The vote was 53 percent against the ballot issue and 47 percent for it.