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Scott County continues with plan to use COVID funds to expand juvenile detention center, over local objections

Scott County plans to build a new 40 bed facility, more than double the capacity of the 18 bed center the county currently runs.

The Scott County Board of Supervisors is plowing ahead with a proposal to use pandemic relief funds to build a new juvenile detention facility, over the objections of local residents. At a meeting Monday, advocates urged the board to use the funds on prevention and rehabilitation instead.

Across the country, local governments are seizing on what’s been called a “once in a generation opportunity”: how best to spend a massive infusion of stimulus funds under the American Rescue Plan Act, aimed at alleviating the punishing economic costs of the coronavirus crisis.

Residents and advocates in Scott County are horrified that the board of supervisors there hopes to use a significant portion of its ARPA allocation to more than double the size of its juvenile detention facility.

“This is not a responsible use of funds. And it will not actually address community problems that were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Katie Styrt told the board at Monday’s meeting. “It’s excessive and it’s a waste of our COVID relief funds. It would be better used to address the housing crisis in Scott County.”

Across the country, the number of juveniles arrested has been declining dramatically for years, and so have youth incarceration rates. Still, Scott County is moving ahead with a plan to build a new 40 bed facility, more than double the capacity of the 18 bed center the county currently runs.

State officials and national experts have called the plan costly, ineffective and out of step with national best practices in dealing with at-risk children. While some local residents and advocates have acknowledged that a new juvenile facility is needed, they say that dramatically expanding the size of the facility, and using COVID relief funds to do so, is immoral and would serve to reinforce the glaring racial disparities in the county’s juvenile justice system.

Jane Duax told the board that her son is one of the children of color in Scott County that has been disproportionately waived to adult court. Duax urged the county to invest in community support and prevention, saying if her son had access to treatment, it could’ve helped keep him out of the system.

“I begged for help, particularly for drug and alcohol treatment for him. And there isn’t anything in the Quad Cities for our kids,” Duax said. “We need to do more prevention and rehabilitation and offering services to kids and their families, who are begging for help to help their children not be making the decisions that they’re making.”

On Sunday, youth advocates gathered in downtown Davenport to protest the proposed facility. The Quad-City Times reported that children as young as 10 gathered to make their voices heard, asking county officials to invest in the community and give kids in need more chances to learn and grow up.

Ann Schwickerath, who leads the local youth development nonprofit Project Renewal, urged the board to invest in support and rehabilitation, instead of incarceration, which researchers have found doesn’t help.

“Incarcerating juveniles in fact increases recidivism. So to me, I understand that meaning, it doesn’t help. When you lock kids up, it’s not rehabilitating to them. It’s not helpful to them. And you’re proposing to do more of it,” Schwickerath said.

Schwickerath, and an organizer with the mentoring group Becoming A Man, urged county officials to work with them on a solution, pleading with them to invest in other ways to strengthen local communities, address family needs and reduce juvenile crime.

“I think you should really start listening to the youth who are speaking. I think you’d be really amazed and impressed and find some really good solutions,” Schwickerath said. “We could really make a long-term difference and it wouldn’t be out of reach for all of us to work together and provide that.”

The board of supervisors has discussed using up to $10 million in ARPA funds to build the proposed juvenile detention center, which would amount to nearly one third of the county’s overall $33 million allocation. On Tuesday, supervisors said instead they anticipated the amount would be an estimated $7.5 million in ARPA funds.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet again Tuesday to review design plans for the facility.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter