Following the resounding 1998 defeat of a $48 million bond referendum to build a 500-bed jail in downtown Davenport, Scott County embarked on a long process of re-evaluation that would culminate in a decision whether the county needs a new facility to house inmates. The answer appears to be yes.

"I think there will be some bricks and mortar," said Scott County Administrator Glen Erickson. The big questions now are how big a new jail would be, and how much it would cost.

The Scott County Jail & Alternatives Phase One Study is nearly complete, and Colorado-based Voorhis Associates - which specializes in the planning of judicial and correctional facilities - suggests building a jail that will meet an anticipated 2015 need of between 350 and 411 beds. The jail's current capacity is 214 people.

"The primary reason Scott County needs to build a new jail is not population growth or even the fact that the current facility is crowded," the consultant writes in the study, which will cost the county more than $80,000. "It is because this facility is no longer functional and has reached a point in its life cycle when it must either be replaced or renovated to provide a more cost-effective facility, which will allow the county to operate consistent with today's standards and to deliver the types of programs and services - beyond the basics - that are required by today's population." These include vocational, educational, and recreational activities.

The consultant is waiting for feedback from the Community Jail & Alternatives Advisory Committee - which meets from 4 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, October 31, in Room 1006 of the Kahl Education Center - before delivering more specific recommendations. Those suggestions will include program ideas as well as jail recommendations that will be presented at a joint meeting of the Community Jail & Alternatives Advisory Committee and the Scott County Board of Supervisors on November 28. Supervisors are scheduled to vote on the recommendations December 4.

Following that, the county will begin a Phase Two study to explore the best way to implement the recommendations. That is expected to be completed in spring 2002.

But a draft of the consultant report suggests that a new push for a new jail will begin next year. And the issue will almost surely go to voters in the form of a bond referendum.

"While Scott County needs to plan for 2025 capacity, there are a number of reasons why the consultant believes the county should build for a shorter time frame," Gail Elias writes in the report. "2015 seems appropriate based on the amount of time required to plan, design, and construct a facility."

Erickson said the county will probably use three different target dates in planning a new jail. The furthest away - most likely 2025 - would be used to determine the long-term space needs of the facility's "core," which would include areas such as the kitchen but not the beds. Those needs would be incorporated into initial construction.

2025 might also be a target for expansion of the jail's housing capacity. If the growth of the county's jail population mirrors trends in the incarceration rates in Illinois and Iowa (which is lower than Illinois'), the county would need between 417 and 524 beds by 2025, according to the report.

Population forecasts for the closest date - most likely 2010 - might be the basis for the housing capacity of initial construction, Erickson said. In the report, that figure would probably be between 318 and 358 beds. Erickson stressed that the county might, in the short run, use the jail annex and its 80 beds if it builds a new jail. In other words, the next bond referendum could be for a facility with as few as 238 beds.

The interim date - probably 2015 - would be a target for expansion.

That incremental approach might be more palatable to voters than the proposal they rejected in 1998. It also gives the county flexibility. If it builds a new jail to expected 2010 needs and the population doesn't meet projections, the county might be able to delay or alter future expansions.

The county has clearly learned its lesson from the failed referendum. The Community Jail & Alternatives Advisory Committee includes both proponents and opponents of the jail bond referendum, and the group has operated openly. The committee will be the foundation on which the county hopes to build community consensus.

It should also help that the county has been aggressive in implementing alternatives to incarceration for "low-risk" offenders to control its jail population, including expanding drug and alcohol programs, instituting a court-compliance program, and adding a program to push cases through the criminal-justice system more quickly.

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