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Davenport aldermen call for resolution opposing Scott County youth detention plans
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DAVENPORT CITY COUNCIL

Davenport aldermen call for resolution opposing Scott County youth detention plans

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The Davenport City Council may become the latest to join a chorus of opposition to plans by Scott County to build a larger juvenile detention center in downtown Davenport.

Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole agenda includes a resolution requested by Alderman Marion Meginnis, Ward 3, and Alderman Kyle Gripp, at-large, opposing any plans to redevelop the site at West 4th and Warren streets for a new, larger Scott County Juvenile Detention Center.

"We want to make sure that we're on the record and that our voice is being heard," Gripp said of the lack of dialogue and inclusion of city officials by county supervisors over plans to build a new detention facility within Davenport's redeveloping downtown area.

"We want to make sure we're being included in the conversation and that our concerns are being heard, and that when they're making a decision they're making a collaborative decision," Gripp said.

Plans to build a new, 40-bed Youth Justice & Rehabilitation Center — which would more than double existing capacity at the juvenile detention center at 500 West 4th St. — has generated tense debate and widespread opposition.

"The potential impact of the new facility on Davenport neighborhoods and residents is great, and this process should have been done on a more collaborative basis," the resolution states.

Scott County Juvenile Detention Center Director Jeremy Kaiser and Board of Supervisors Chairman Ken Beck did not return messages seeking comment Monday.

Critics, including the Davenport NAACP, local pastors and juvenile justice advocates, argue such a facility is over-sized and that it will only fuel the existing disproportionate incarceration of young people of color and high number of Scott County youth waived to adult court.

County officials contend a 40-bed facility is needed to address overcrowding and long-term juvenile detention capacity needs while continuing to invest in diversion, restorative justice and prevention programs.

Scott County faces a Dec. 18 deadline that any youth awaiting trial as an adult, with limited exceptions, be removed from jail, necessitating further need for more space, county officials have said.

When the JDC reaches capacity, the county must spend money to house youths in facilities in other counties, separating them from their families and local support systems.

Scott County officials, too, argue the youth detention facility — which opened in 1980 and was expanded in 1987, 1994 and 2003 — is outdated and not conducive to treatment or rehabilitation. Space constraints also limit detention staff's ability to properly classify and separate juveniles based on the severity of their offense.

While recognizing the county’s need to replace the outdated facility, critics argue Scott County's youth population and youth incarceration numbers are in decline.

"Statistics across the country and even within the State of Iowa project an overall need for fewer allocated beds in Juvenile Detention Centers," according to the resolution. "Community-based approaches such as the Youth Assessment Program that work to redirect at-risk youth are a growing alternative to costly incarceration. The City Council recommend the Board of Supervisors closely examine these options as it addresses the state's mandate to remove young people from adult facilities."

Meginnis and Gripp, too, object to the planned location of a new detention center "anywhere within or adjacent to the city's most challenged neighborhoods."

Tentative plans call for building the larger facility at the Burke Dry Cleaners property at 936 West 4th St.

"The site is adjacent to urban, diverse neighborhoods all within low/moderate income census tracts where many families are already struggling with poverty, housing issues, transient residents, disinvestment and a relatively high incidence of crime," the resolution reads. "A detention center does nothing to enhance or improve their lives."

Supervisors earlier this month approved a $1.75 million purchase and lease agreement for the property, with the hopes of closing on the property by the end of the year. Doing so, however, is contingent on the results of an environmental site assessment of the property.

Scott County purchased a connected piece of property for about $325,000 in December 2020.

"Central Davenport is where our poorest residents live," Meginnis said. "It's about people and economics," she said of her opposition to the county's plans.

She and Gripp argue recent investment in downtown Davenport has begun to reverse decades of declines, with the next opportunity for new development and continued revitalization to the west.

"Removing half a city block as a source of property and sales-tax revenue negates that opportunity," according to the resolution. "New businesses, shops, or restaurants will not locate next to a detention center."

Kaiser told supervisors last week downtown Davenport provides a central, easily accessible location for families to visit detained youth, as well as making it easier to transfer youth from the facility to court appearances at the county courthouse downtown.

Kaiser added planned designs call for a building that more resembles a school or a library.

"I couldn't think of a better neighbor," he said.

Gripp, however, believes there are other locations in Davenport and Scott County that would be suitable.

Meginnis, too, objects to the high operating costs to run a 40-bed facility and the impact that would have on county taxpayers.

County officials have estimated it could cost up to $2.5 million annually to operate a 40-bed facility. The current annual operating cost for the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center is about $1.6 million.

Should the resolution pass, Meginnis said it was her hope such action "opens up the public dialogue" about the county's youth detention plans.

"I'm not sure at the end of the day everyone is aware how it might impact them," Meginnis said. "It seems to be moving very quickly, and it seems we need to be having this discussion now."

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