Today 10 civil rights, social justice, and community organizations sent a letter to the Scott County Board of Supervisors, expressing concerns about its considering using COVID-19 funds to build a new, larger juvenile detention facility.
The letter spells out that:
- using COVID-19 funds to build the facility is unlawful and
- building a new and expanded juvenile detention facility, no matter what the funding source, is bad public policy because it simply deepens racial disparities for young people in the juvenile legal system.
It is signed by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change, Iowa Cure, Iowa Justice Action Network, Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, One Iowa, Regret No Opportunities, and The Sentencing Project.
Mark Stringer, ACLU of Iowa Executive Director, said "Scott County was given federal funding to limit the spread of COVID-19. Instead, it's poised to unlawfully use that money to build a new and expanded juvenile detention facility. This adds insult to injury because building jails to house children completely goes against current best practice, which is to prevent juveniles from ending up in the legal system in the first place. We call upon the Scott County Board of Supervisors to do the right thing. We ask the board to change course. The board should not proceed with this new facility."
The Scott County Board of Supervisors has given preliminary approval to spend more than $7 million of the federal funding given to Scott County as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Those funds were specified by the Department of the Treasury "to provide support to State, local, and Tribal governments... in responding to the impact of COVID-19 and their efforts to contain COVID-19 in their communities, residents, and businesses."
The letter spells out the multiple ways in which using that funding to build a detention center is not a response that helps contain COVID-19 and is, in fact, unlawful.
The groups also urge generally against building a juvenile detention center, saying, "...a new, expanded juvenile detention center is bad public policy. Nationwide, in Iowa, and in Scott County, a Black child is disproportionately more likely to face juvenile detention than a white child. Expanding juvenile detention in Scott County will only exacerbate the existing crisis. It is also against the recommendation of state officials and national juvenile justice experts. Best practice is to focus new dollars and reforms on preventing children from entering the juvenile justice system in the first place, not to increase the incarceration of children."
In Scott County, one out of every 22 Black children is detained in juvenile detention compared to only one out of every 457 white children.
Statewide, the rate at which Black children are placed in detention in Iowa is more than double the national average: Black children in Iowa are about 8.7 times as likely as their white peers to be placed in juvenile detention.
"These are deeply disturbing numbers," said Stringer. "Scott County should be doing what it can to remedy racial disparities in its treatment of youth, not make them worse."