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.

‘It’s a major problem’ Justice Knox meets to discuss mental illness crisis behind bars

February 23, 2020. WBIR.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — For more than a decade, Leon Evans has worked to divert people with mental illness from jail in Texas.

He said he’s proven that treatment works in San Antonio.

“The Texas prison system is actually working on shutting down their third prison,” Evans told 10News. “The prison system actually pays for mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment.”

Now, he’s bringing his expertise to Knox County, Tennessee.

Justice Knox, which is an interfaith collaboration tackling criminal justice issues, hosted Evans for a series of meetings on Thursday.

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.

Proposition 1 foes will urge county to move forward with behavioral health campus, hire consultant to review criminal justice system

May 23, 2018. Lawrence Journal-World.

A week after county voters rejected Proposition 1, two key groups in the fight against the referendum said they’ll push the county to move ahead with the ballot question’s behavioral health components while bringing in outside expertise to review the county’s criminal justice system.

The demands from the faith-based activist group Justice Matters and the social justice advocacy organization Kansas Appleseed are not new. The Jail No coalition, which consisted of those two groups, the Douglas County chapter of the NAACP and the taxpayer watchdog group Lawrence Sunset Alliance, made similar demands while it campaigned against Proposition 1.