Douglas County left with questions after jail expansion shelved

By Celia Hack, The KLC Journal

Douglas County voters sent a message in the August primary bu selecting dandidates for county offices who opposed a $29 million proposal to expand the local jail. But what happens next is less clear and could have implications for the future of criminal justice in counties across Kansas.

Why did Kansas officials threaten opponents of jail expansion with a $3 million bond?

April 3, 2020. The Kansas City Star Editorial Board.

Douglas County Commissioners want to expand the jail in Lawrence, and they apparently won’t let anything stand in their way — not even opposition from the public.

And if citizens dare protest, they’ll be threatened with a $3 million surety bond.

In January, the county’s board of commissioners voted to add 112 beds to the Douglas County Jail, which currently has a capacity of 186.

A month later, attorneys for Justice Matters, a Lawrence-based activist group, submitted legal arguments requesting that Douglas County officials place the $30 million jail expansion in front of voters. Kansas law spells out a process to allow for a petition and ultimately force a public vote on projects involving the issuance of general obligation bonds.

Group files suit to compel vote on jail

March 16, 2020. McPherson Sentinel.

LAWRENCE — An interfaith organization filed a lawsuit Monday to force a public vote on the Douglas County Commission’s plan to invest $30 million in a jail expansion.

Voters in the county rejected in May 2018 a proposal to rely on a 0.5% sales tax increase to finance an addition to the overcrowded jail. That vote was 13,811 opposed and 12,257 in support of the idea.

In January, however, the Douglas County Commission concluded a county ballot measure adopted in 1994 gave commissioners authority to issue bonds backed by current sales tax revenue to pay for about $22 million of the prison project with the remainder drawn from other county resources. The commission unanimously passed a resolution approving construction of up to 112 beds at the 186-bed Douglas County Correctional Facility.

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.