A Thousand Voices: Readers signal county crisis intervention center as a priority

Our newest LJWorld.com survey shows readers are middle-of-the road when it comes to the importance of expanding the Douglas County jail, but a high percentage think an accompanying plan — to establish a mental health crisis intervention center for inmates — should be a priority.

The 186-bed county jail, opened in 1999, has been at capacity for 18 months, and Douglas County officials have been considering a potential expansion for more than a year. A proposed 120-bed extension is currently in its design phase.

Also proposed is a crisis intervention center — separate from the jail — that would provide alternative treatment for those with mental illness.

About this article

A Thousand Voices is a feature that surveys readers of LJWorld.com about their opinions on a variety of issues being debated by the public. The Journal-World will regularly conduct a poll that captures a representative sample of the approximately 35,000 users of LJWorld.com. All polling will be conducted by our partner, Google Consumer Surveys. The Google system chooses participants for the poll at random. Users of LJWorld.com have no ability to choose to take the poll. Some people had this survey presented to them when they went to our website and some didn’t. Each poll consists of at least 1,000 responses from website users. The survey software calculates results using margins of error and 95 percent confidence levels common to the polling industry.

If you have a topic you would like to see as part of a future poll, please suggest it to Nikki Wentling at nwentling@ljworld.com

More of the LJWorld.com readers who were surveyed were on board with the crisis intervention center than adding more space, and beds, to the jail.

Here’s a look at the results:

When asked about the jail expansion, 35.4 percent of those surveyed responded with neutrality, answering it was “neither important nor unimportant.” Close to the same amount — 34.4 percent — said it was “important.” The remaining results were: 12.3 percent for “very important,” 11.4 percent for “unimportant” and 6.5 percent for “very unimportant.” The results had a margin of error of 1.4 to 3 percentage points.

To the development of the mental health crisis intervention center, almost half — 49 percent — said it was “very important.” The next-highest response was that it was “important,” with 33.2 percent. The remaining results were” 13.5 percent for “neither important nor unimportant,” 3.7 percent for “very unimportant,” and 2.8 percent for “unimportant.” The results had a margin of error of 0.9 to 3.1 percentage points.

Before answering the survey, LJWorld.com readers were asked to say whether they were registered voters in Douglas County. Only if they answered “yes” did they go on to the following two questions.

The results seem to fall in line with a dialogue county officials have had over the last year of looking at solutions for the jail.

Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern told attendees of a town hall meeting in November that there needed to be other solutions along with the expansion. He is quoted as saying, “We can say, ‘Let’s just build a jail, continue to build a jail,’ but that’s not the answer.”

Members of the public have also brought up the question of whether it’s necessary to incarcerate more of the community.

The jail’s at-capacity status has cost the county.

The Journal-World reported last week that the county was spending an average of $90,000 each month placing its inmates at other jails.

While doing research for the county this summer, criminal justice consultants Huskey & Associates found that 18 percent of jail bookings are people classified as seriously mentally ill. Of that population, less than 20 percent had been convicted of a violent crime.

The consultants said those inmates might qualify for treatments that are an alternative to jail, such as the proposed crisis intervention center.

County commissioners voted Wednesday to hire Treanor to design the center.

The county and Bert Nash Community Health Center have agreed to a letter of intent, which would have the county build the center on Bert Nash-owned land north of Second Street.

Treanor will be paid $60,000 for the first phase, which includes preparing an initial concept design and presenting it at public gatherings.