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Here comes the opposition: Four groups join forces to campaign against Douglas County jail expansion


Get your earplugs, your nose plugs or any other means of protection you feel necessary during campaign season. Douglas County is about to enter it in full force thanks to the pending sales tax election for a jail expansion and mental health programs. Saturday will be a big day for the season as four groups are banding together to formally launch a "Vote No" campaign against the $44 million jail expansion.

The four groups are: Justice Matters, an interfaith coalition of about 20 church congregations; Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit that advocates for “vulnerable and excluded Kansans”; the Lawrence Sunset Alliance, a local taxpayer watchdog organization; and the Lawrence chapter of the NAACP.

At least three of those four have been pretty vocal opponents already, but the NAACP hasn’t done as much to lend its voice to the opposition. It sounds like that will change on Saturday. Based on a press release sent out by the organizations, it appears the groups plan to run an organized opposition campaign. They are calling it "Jail No." The campaign already has six talking points about why its members are urging a no vote.

— Relationships between jails and U.S. policies that lead to “mass incarceration.”

— A lack of understanding on the county’s part about what is driving the “recent explosion” in the rate of incarceration.

— A failure on the part of the county to embrace reforms to lower jail population.

— An over-representation of minorities in Douglas County’s criminal justice system.

— Use of a “regressive sales tax to fund the jail expansion, placing the greatest burden for funding on the poor.”

— “Contempt for the voters by the Douglas County Commission.” The groups argue that County Commissioners should have created two ballot questions — one for a sales tax that would fund new mental health programs, and a separate sales tax question for the jail expansion. In addition, the groups have become particularly irked in recent weeks as county commissioners have said even if the sales tax proposal fails, they will seek to do the jail expansion in phases, funding it through budget cuts and existing resources. The opposition groups have taken that as an explicit threat to voters.

Douglas County Jail

Douglas County Jail by Mike Yoder

County commissioners, of course, disagree with many of the opposition’s assertions. They believe opponents have been misrepresenting the rate of incarceration in Douglas County. County officials point to statistics that show local incarceration rates are below the national average and are near the lowest in the state of Kansas.

County officials also point to a multitude of programs they already have implemented to try to reduce the jail population, including a pre-trial release program that cuts down on the amount of time people spend in jail waiting for a court proceeding.

The county also believes a myth is forming in the community that there are lots of people in the Douglas County jail for simple offenses, such as small-scale possession of marijuana. County officials contend that if someone is in jail for simple marijuana possession they also have other underlying charges against them, such as fleeing from the police or some other action that made the incident more serious. (Full disclosure: The Journal-World is currently reviewing data about the jail’s population and hopes to soon publish an article detailing the type of inmates who currently are in jail.)

But, clearly, county officials have a lot of work cut out for them. Organized opposition groups aren’t that common in local elections. To have four groups come together to oppose a project is pretty rare in Douglas County politics.

Plus, there are several numbers that voters likely will want an explanation on. For example, the percentage of black inmates in Douglas County jail is high compared to the black population of the county.

Another question — one that I know the Journal-World is trying to get an answer to — is why does Douglas County have such a high percentage of felony court cases that take more than a year to resolve? As we’ve previously reported, 12.8 percent of all felony cases in Douglas County in fiscal year 2017 were still pending after a year in the system. Of the 31 judicial districts in the state, that is the sixth highest rate in Kansas. Notably, it is the highest rate of any urban county in the state. Thus far, we haven’t gotten a lot of answers from judicial officials about why that is the case.

And, finally, Douglas County officials may have to overcome a piece of their own literature. Homeowners this week should start receiving their annual change of value notices for their properties. As we’ve reported, more than 75 percent of all homeowners are going to see the tax values of their homes increase. Unless local governments make some sort of pledge to decrease property tax rates, those higher values essentially ensure that most residents will see higher property taxes next year.

Saturday may be a gauge of how spirited this campaign season will be. The four groups are hosting a rally on the west steps of the Douglas County Courthouse at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The sales tax election will be conducted by mail-in ballot. Ballots will begin arriving in mailboxes on April 24, and they will be counted on May 15.

More coverage

• Feb. 21, 2018 — Douglas County will face tough choices on jail expansion if tax referendum fails, official says

• Feb. 20 — Building jail expansion in phases would take 16 years, $6M to $8M a year, county says

• Feb. 19 — Town Talk: Fact checking county commissioners on assertion that big budget cuts will come if voters reject jail/mental health sales tax

• Feb. 17 — Activist leaders blast proposed expansion of Douglas County Jail

• Feb. 12 — As voters consider $44M expansion, report finds some changes could reduce overcrowding at Douglas County Jail

• Feb. 7 — Douglas County Commission to schedule forums on jail and mental health referendum, provide information on what happens if voters reject

• Feb. 4 — Johnson County built a larger jail and now has 300 unused beds; Douglas County can't use them

• Jan. 30 — State law won't allow Douglas County commissioners to campaign for passage of jail, mental health sales tax

• Jan. 24 — Douglas County Commission approves language for ballot question on jail expansion, behavioral health campus

• Jan. 22 — Following the money: Douglas County partners beefing up behavioral health services with funding

• Jan. 17 — Douglas County Commission agrees to put jail expansion, behavioral health campus on same ballot question

• Jan. 16 — Town Talk: Many residents want to vote separately on jail, mental health projects; there's a way, but county unlikely to go there

• Jan. 16 — Douglas County commissioners ready to ask voters to approve jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives

• Jan. 15 — 2014 speedy trial redefinition clogging Douglas County jail, district court

• Jan. 10 — Price tag of behavioral health campus, services estimated at $5.76 million annually

• Jan. 8 — No insurance and hooked on drugs? Chances are, you won't find treatment in Douglas County

• Jan. 5 — Town Talk: A look at how high Lawrence's sales tax rate would be if voters approve increase for jail, mental health

• Jan. 3, 2018 — Due to misunderstanding, county now says jail expansion, mental health projects must be on same sales tax ballot

• Dec. 31, 2017 — Undersheriff says 2016 annual report shows overcrowding threatening jail safety, re-entry programming

• Dec. 18 — Behavioral health campus plan grew from recognition of housing's role in crisis recovery

• Dec. 13 — Services that will be part of behavioral health campus to be introduced next month at LMH

• Dec. 13 — Douglas County commissioners confident of voter buy-in on jail expansion plan

• Nov. 30 — Douglas County commission agrees to move ahead with $44 million jail expansion design

• Nov. 26 — Sheriff's Office exploring modular units as stopgap solution to Douglas County Jail overcrowding

• Nov. 8 — Douglas County Sheriff's Office recommends jail redesign that would more than double number of beds

• Oct. 4 — Jail expansion, crisis center would require public vote on new taxes, officials say

• Sept. 20 — Estimated cost to expand Douglas County Jail jumps by millions of dollars

• July 26 — Douglas County Commission to forward report on future jail population to architects

• July 16 — Double bunking not considered solution for Douglas County Jail overcrowding

• June 26 — Jail, mental health initiatives help drive proposed tax increase in 2018 county budget

• May 14 — Douglas County data showing swelling jail population despite fewer arrests

• April 5, 2017 — Sheriff urges Douglas County Commission to make jail expansion a priority


Stacy Napier 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Good. The elected officials need to wake the blank up and realize that we are tired of being taxed taxed and more taxed for stuff that is needed. You have a budget that you need to stay in. Spend less and learn to do with what you have.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Elect to budget a little time to learn what reality you have to wake up to, please and thank you.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 months, 3 weeks ago

So can some of these people be housed at your house?

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed, i, as a property, income & sales tax paying City of Lawrence and Douglas County resident for 25 of my 50 years, am high fiving you! And yeah maybe some posters here would like to foster individuals in their houses and since they know it all can provide skills, strategies, education, support and resources so much more successfully than trained professionals that it'll just be one big happy utopia where housing rental leases, jobs, licensing loss, credit scores, first/last month+utility deposits, INCOME, transportation, HEALTH INSURANCE....yeah FIX THAT and until you do, enjoy your sick and tired because i promise you there's a lot of people who would love to only know your misery.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

and that kind of attitude is exactly the problem, imho. by all means, do NOTHING but judge others you know nothing about. hope it makes you feel good about yourself.

Benet Magnuson 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Hi Chad, I wanted to clarify that the Jail No folks don't believe marijuana possession charges are driving the rapid rise in incarceration at the jail. It looks more like case processing changes and other criminal justice system issues are having an effect. We want to make sure these questions - why did incarceration increase so much so suddenly; why are people of color so much more likely to be incarcerated; etc - are fully investigated before we expand the jail, not after.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

So you are saying these questions have NOT been fully investigated???

Sharilyn Wells 2 months, 3 weeks ago

why so many arrests for failure to appear.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Perhaps because there are so many failures to appear...

Francis Hunt 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The correct question is why so many failure to appear? These people are out of jail pretrial but can't be bothered to show up for trial. That results in go directly to jail so someone can make sure they show up for the rescheduled trial.

Calvin Anders 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The county's "multitude of programs" to reduce jail population are little more than a couple band-aids on a system designed to lock up and economically burden the poor. If in fact there are a "multitude" of substantive programs designed to reduce jail population, why are we not hearing more about them? Let's have a comprehensive and detailed list of these many many "programs" with data supporting the claimed reduction in jail population. Either that or county officials can stop their lies and exaggerations and start looking for real solutions. County officials seem much more interested in forwarding their own narrative than in hearing community concerns or engaging in constructive dialog about solutions. Their only solution is to build a bigger jail so they can lock up more people. In order to get county and law enforcement officials to the table to begin to change the idiotic system of mass incarceration, we need to vote no. We need to send a clear message that our city and county want a better solution. Our control of the purse strings is apparently our only means of getting their attention.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Calvin, there's this thing called google where you can type stuff like "re-entry program" and "douglas county kansas" and "dept of corrections"...maybe you're not hearing because you're not looking to listen?

Calvin Anders 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Really Jeanette, that's your defense of this ridiculous fabrication? "Google it"? My point is that this "multitude" of programs is a gross exaggeration of the truth. My point is that it would be impossible to produce a list of scores of substantive initiatives that have significantly reduced jail population. Because the programs don't exist. I do wish Chad (our intrepid local reporter) had challenged the outlandish assertion himself before writing it in his story. And before you rattle off the names of a couple of programs and smugly declare victory, remember that a multitude is defined as a large number and any example needs to be backed up with information on how it reduces incarceration rates. Otherwise you are just blowing smoke.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Calvin that information DOES exist. How do i know? 3 year live-in relationship with Former Programs Director at Douglas County Correctional Facility. I also have immense respect for Mike Brouwer Re-Entry Program Director. Facts are facts and truth is verifiable. Smoke some instead of blowing some.

Steve Jacob 2 months, 3 weeks ago

It's not hard to figure out that the rapid rise in drugs is the reason for increased crime. I don't see that going away anytime soon.

Steve Jacob 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Vote for the sales tax and we will have some drug treatment/mental illness money. Less people will be in jail if this tax passes.

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Well, lets throw them all in jail where we don't bother to treat them or even bother to keep drugs out.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Well let's throw bothering with reality out and treat the issues as if we're drugged because facts are what's being kept out of this debate. Mental health and drug treatment support both DO exist for Douglas County residents. Expanding the jail expands such support inmates. Why is this so hard to comprehend? Re-entry programs lowered the recidivism rates from 43 to 31% (facts 2007-2009 baseline 2015 stats) and expanding facilities, services, alternatives to inmates benefits EVERYONE. Anyone who excludes inmates from support expanded mental health/drug treatment, how are you not shortsightedly and/or selfishly acting as judge, jury AND jailor?!?

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Expanding the jail does more than just support the inmates with mental health and drug problems. The issue is that mental health and drug problems are being piggybacked on to the wish to expand the jail. Which, by the way, will happen regardless.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

What more are you referring to? Increased safety for inmates and staff?

Where has there been ANY campaign for mental health or drug problems prior to this ballot in Douglas County?

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 2 weeks ago

So if there hasn't been any before, this one must be perfect?

It does more in that it allows the jail to expand to hold more and more inmates, all the while, we are not examining causes or anything for that matter. We're just building more and more space.

Francis Hunt 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The crime increase? Duh, guns, drugs, a welcoming community the list goes on and on. Let's keep spending money to attract and support more and more homeless people and druggies and keep putting the pressure on property owners to support them. These four groups and their followers want, want, want and want everyone else to pay for all their "do gooding"

How much do these four groups spend on programs, housing, feeding and training (locally) to help the poor (job search, basic finance, etc), legal aid, clothing, housing, crime prevention, etc?

Drug treatment Sharilyn? First they have to want to be helped. Does that time only come after killing someone or busting down somebodys front door?

When these four groups start seriously contributing financially to solve the problems instead of just making demands then maybe people can take them seriously. Until then they are just a bunch of petulant children.

Again, the churches from justice matters should be ashamed of themselves for telling people to vote against mental health services.

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 3 weeks ago

"Again, the churches from justice matters should be ashamed of themselves for telling people to vote against mental health services."

I highly doubt they have a problem with mental health services. The issue is that the commissioners have piggybacked it with the jail expansion.

Voting for something that you generally oppose just because it has a little bit that you like is foolish and irresponsible.

Sharilyn Wells 2 months, 3 weeks ago

substance abuse and mental illness are very connected. Lots of people really have both.

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 3 weeks ago

That's true, but that really doesn't address my comment at all.

Francis Hunt 2 months, 3 weeks ago

"...has a little bit that you like" are you serious? They have been telling the community since their founding that mental health was one of their 3 priorities. Now it has taken a backseat to a national justice agenda.

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 3 weeks ago

It should be a priority, but it should be on it's own separate bill.

Sharilyn Wells 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Homelessness exists everywhere in the Unted states for a multitude of reasons.

Sharilyn Wells 2 months, 3 weeks ago

the proposed services include drug treatment.

Sharilyn Wells 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The mental health services includes drug treatment.

Rosemary Morris 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Legalize marijuana. Receive all that money from the taxing and solve the budget problems. Let the first offenders of marijuana arrests out of the overcrowded jail. It will come eventually--when Kansas is the last state to approve it. It is proven to be less lethal than alcohol. No, I'm not a user nor intend to be unless I would someday have severe pain from cancer. Let these sufferers in pain use it if they choose to replace the opioids with it. Could it be that drug companies are keeping marijuana illegal except in forward-thinking states?

Aaron McGrogor 2 months, 3 weeks ago

"Could it be that drug companies are keeping marijuana illegal except in forward-thinking states?"

Them and many other groups with something to lose from marijuana legalization.

Francis Hunt 2 months, 3 weeks ago

And there it is, the crux of the matter, legalize marijuana. Yes, that will solve everything, druggies will quit robbing their dealer when marijuana is legalized. Druggies won't murder their dealer when marijuana is legal and we won't even need a jail.

When these low lifes are robbing and killing their dealer the problem isn't legalization. The problem is they are too lazy and stoned to work and can't afford their dope. In this wonderful, welcoming community you already act like marijuana is legal, we have a community full of druggies and keep attracting more and the rest of us are supporting them.

Sharilyn Wells 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Most of the homeless shelters funds come from private donations.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

really Stacy Napier, shelters aren't non-profit organizations that don't have any rules/regulations, board of directors or financial accounting reporting....they just get a free ride from LFK getting sideways every time with your money....

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

again, there's this thing called google...

link for direct facts/info for one place to start www dot lawrenceshelter dot org research there

Steve Jacob 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Then why does the county keep having to giving them money.

Rosemary Morris 2 months, 3 weeks ago

No Francis, it won't solve everything. Nothing would solve everything. But it would certainly solve some things besides druggies killing their dealers. That's a bit radical thinking. There are a few other drugs out there besides marijuana. And this wonderful, welcoming community is not the only place where druggies exist. It is an escape for them from the reality of life.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I really would rather we looked at ways to cut down on the population first. I haven't been able to attend any forums, but how many of these cases would be better in a mental health hospital? How many just don't have enough money to post bond, but aren't dangerous. If we are going to pay extra taxes, I would like to see it go towards lowering the population and to treating mental illness.

Conrad Griebel 2 months, 3 weeks ago

"County officials contend that if someone is in jail for simple marijuana possession they also have other underlying charges against them, such as fleeing from the police or some other action that made the incident more serious."

I doubt it's very hard to get a resisting arrest or making misleading statements charge.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

How hard is it to not resist or accept the right to remain silent?

Conrad Griebel 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Hi, you must be new to the criminal justice system.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Officer, am i being detained? If yes, i reserve the right to remain silent.

Conrad Griebel 2 months, 1 week ago

Yes, and I'm sure cops never charge suspects with resisting arrest for little or no reason.

Tony Peterson 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The headline, "Here comes the opposition: Four groups join forces to campaign against Douglas County jail expansion" is pretty loaded with subjective opinion which is a big no no in journalism.

"Opposition grows: Four groups join forces to campaign against Douglas County jail expansion" would have been a better choice.

Richard Heckler 2 months, 3 weeks ago

i will not support the jail expansion.......

i would support a mental health facility managed by ku med .......

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

How does that pertain to individuals in the criminal justice system needing mental health facilities? And why won't you support jail expansion to accommodate that very need? Especially when there is involvement from KU AND Bert Nash?

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Well do you think the individual wielding a hatchet threatening people in LMH's ER then yelled at responding LPD officer to shoot him recently isn't one possible example?

Sharilyn Wells 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I thought he was sent for a mental eval. clearly this man was having a crisis and should not be sitting in a jail cell. Clearly he was feeling very disturbed and suicidal. Do suicidal people belong in Jail?

Greg DiVilbiss 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The Journal-World is currently reviewing data about the jail’s population and hopes to soon publish an article detailing the type of inmates who currently are in jail.)

Any idea of when that might be released?

That type of information should be really informative.

Melinda Henderson 2 months, 3 weeks ago

That information is available, Greg. I got it tonight at a presentation at the jail, and then went on a tour. It was very informative. And contradicts most, if not all, replies posted here.

Sharilyn Wells 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Is there some way to get the info without going on a tour.

Ken Lassman 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Not exactly sure what you're looking for, but there are a number of documents that the County has made available on the ballot initiative here: https://www.douglascountyks.org/ballot-initiative/documents

Melinda Henderson 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I think so. Last night was a presentation on all aspects of the sales tax and what it would cover and then anyone who wanted to stick around and take a tour could. The presentation was based on factual data for DGCO...not trying to manipulate state or federal data like some of these groups are doing.

Jeanette Kekahbah 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Melinda Henderson thank you for posting - good to see comments made by someone who bothered becoming informed.

Some of these groups ought to be questioned!

Lawrence Sunset Alliance appears to be nothing more than a facebook group and Patrick Wilbur while claiming to be all about demanding transparency & responsibility has only ONE thing I can find online and it is on a gofundme type website crowdpac where he is seeking $2500...


Justice Matters insists a 24/7 mental health crisis care facility would "divert 200 individuals with mental illness away from incarceration toward treatment each year" but fails to explain how/why OR provide any basis for their assertion. Mental illness IS a real illness, I do agree, but violence is still violence and those subjected to violence are to be protected by enforcement of law.


Kansas Appleseed's website has me interested in talking with Benet Magnuson directly...


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