Sheriff Candidates Outline Priorities Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Tuesday, 26 October 2004 18:00
This year’s general election includes the race between incumbent Dennis Conard and former Davenport mayor Phil Yerington for Scott County sheriff. Both candidates boast long-term careers in criminal justice. The sheriff’s office has four primary areas of responsibility: jail management, courthouse security, service of all court orders, and rural-community policing. Jail management accounts for at least 60 percent of the sheriff’s budget, so with the county’s push for a new jail as a referendum on the upcoming ballot, the position of sheriff will have the responsibility of ushering in a $29.7-million facility … or not. Should the referendum fail, jail management will have an entirely different set of challenges for the next sheriff.

Below is an overview of the candidates’ views and ideas should they be elected on November 2.

Dennis Conard has been Scott County sheriff for three and a half years, and has served 31 years in the Scott County sheriff’s office.

“One of the more notable accomplishments is the implementation of contract policing in rural Scott County. Instead of rural communities providing their own police departments, incurring all the attendant costs, the sheriff’s office has contracted with two communities so far to provide police enforcement according to the community’s needs, utilizing off-duty deputies from the sheriff’s office. We still patrol all the unincorporated communities as part of our normal course of business, but this augments individual towns when necessary.

“We’ve also put less-lethal weaponry at the deputies’ disposal as part of their overall available resources.

“The sheriff’s office is available to incorporated and unincorporated communities as additional resources for the asking. But most importantly, we provide the jail system for the entire county. Approximately 75 percent of our budget deals with the jail.

“I wholeheartedly support the new jail. I firmly believe in community policing, and this is the best example I have ever seen. It is the citizens who developed the solution reflected in the new jail proposal. Right now, we are being taxed at over $1 million per year to house prisoners at other locations. If we don’t solve our over-crowding problem, that amount will increase well beyond the cost of a new jail at the current cost of $29.7 million, which is $18 million cheaper than the previous jail proposal [which included 500 beds]. It just makes economic sense. The projection is for 380 beds through 2027. The reason for the reduction in the number of beds is due to programming designed to keep people out of jail. National standards tells us that, while the rate for property crimes is going down, the rate for violent crimes is increasing.

“National standards also mandate that 85-percent capacity is tolerable, and we are most often at 90- to 95-percent capacity, especially due to classification of prisoners. You can’t house juveniles with adults, or women with men, or violent inmates with nonviolent ones. Right now, the current jail is inadequate to efficiently separate the population mandated by the state, and causes our capacity to be realized to the degree that we must transport our prisoners to other facilities at a significant cost to taxpayers. The new jail will effectively address this distribution, as well as allow for more courts to adjudicate prisoners in a timely manner. A new jail just makes economic sense.

“The programming we have initiated for inmates is also key in achieving and maintaining jail capacity at national standards. This includes counseling in substance abuse for alcohol and drug abuse, and batterers’ education and anger management for domestic abuse; life skills that include educational certificates in food safety and chemical/sanitation maintenance and safety, pre-GED, and GED; and work crews for environmental cleanup, which has proven therapeutic value. Currently, however, we only have one Community Restoration Officer, so we only have one work crew going out daily.

“The reality is that only sentenced prisoners can be issued work duty of any kind. In our legal system, when an individual is sentenced, he or she is sentenced to hard labor. If a prisoner is not sentenced, he or she is considered to be innocent and therefore cannot be forced to participate in any programming offered by the jail. Almost 80 percent of the inmates fall into this category because they aren’t sentenced, with jail time averaging from 30 to 60 days. Also, it takes about 27 sentenced inmates to help care for the facility itself, which includes cleaning, cooking, etc.

“Amenities such as television and commissary are management tools for the jail. If inmates follow jail rules, then they are given access to TV and commissary privileges. We need these tools to manage the population, especially when the majority by law cannot be compelled to do anything but behave. Right now, the current jail does not provide the space to aggressively implement a lot of the programming available.

“The national standard for recidivism is 40 percent. Scott County averages 67 percent. By just getting to the national standard, we can have a huge impact in crime reduction here in Scott County.”

Phil Yerington has 32 years in law enforcement with the Davenport Police Department (DPD) and served four years as the city’s mayor.

“Administratively, the Scott County Sheriff’s Office is appealing to me because the sheriff’s position has a political side to it that isn’t present with the city’s chief-of-police position, so it is inherently more interactive with the public. It is one of the greatest public-relations offices in law enforcement.

“My goal would be to provide the best possible jail administration. It was the jail union who implored me to run based on what is a practically nonexistent relationship between the current sheriff and the jail staff. For example, I would allow jail staff to become posse members. To date they are barred from becoming deputized as posse members due to what the sheriff deems as a conflict of interest. I don’t see this conflict. Why not let jail staff, who best know the prisoners, jail functions, etc., also effect arrests etc. as part of the community’s volunteer enforcement posse? This could be a big help to Davenport’s police department. There are many possible collaborative efforts between the two departments. The sheriff’s office is available to all police departments as additional resources. The sheriff’s office handles approximately 16,000 calls per year compared to the DPD’s call load of 125,000 per year. This leaves some time for deputies to help with other efforts.

“Community education could play a vital role in reducing crime in the rural areas, as well as within city limits. Iowa is currently one of the leading states in the manufacturing of crystal meth. The sheriff can set up meetings to identify chemicals etc. that play a part in crystal-meth production, to alert farmers to the potential risks to their inventories. In this same way, the sheriff could also play a more significant role in applying funds for the implementation of the homeland-security act. Gang awareness is also applicable. In the 1980s, gangs moved into the county areas with destructive activities. Education is key in alerting the rural communities and helping with prevention.

“For eight years under [former Sheriff Mike] Bladel, low-risk, nonviolent prisoners were put to work doing environmental cleanup. This policy has relaxed under Conard, but I would more robustly use it. We should have at least two five- to six-inmate work teams out every day picking up trash, cleaning up roadsides, riverfronts, etc. When county workers do it, it costs additional tax dollars; when prisoners do it, it’s free, so to speak.

“In addition, privileges should be tied to merit, and not part of a giveaway. Recently, a grant was written for carpeting, a 36-inch flat-screen TV, a DVD player, a popcorn machine, and a soda fountain. If you want these things, then don’t engage in criminal activity, and go to the cinemas. Access to amenities should be related to some positive engagement in programming, such as obtaining a GED, life-skills classes, etc. Most prisoners are likely to be content just sitting around a state-of-the-art television set, but this is counterproductive to achieving a reduction in recidivism.

“Because most of the inmates in a county jail are there for varying durations, programming should reflect realistic achievement goals, such as remedial reading, writing, and arithmetic skill development. Prisoners should be assessed for levels in each of these basic areas, and then given access to appropriate educational programming to improve theses basic skills. Basic computer skills should also be introduced in this environment. These are realistic goals that can generate real hope for inmates who otherwise have no viable opportunities for self-improvement.

“Sentenced inmates can be mandated to participate in a jail’s programming, especially substance-abuse and anger-management programs. Their participation should be rewarded with incentives and rewards in the form of privileges and access to amenities. But for those inmates who are not sentenced and cannot be compelled to participate, but who elect to voluntarily participate in these programs, privileges could be similarly attached that provide rewards for their initiative. Also, inmates who excel at particular skills should be conscripted into leadership positions in helping to teach fellow inmates.

“A combination of these realistic policies should dramatically impact the rate of recidivism in Scott County, reducing crime overall.”
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