Douglas County Board Proposes New Juvenile Detention Center
The Douglas County Board is risking its legitimacy by ramming this project through over strident public objection and without a public vote on the $120 million bond issue. Given that the facility and grounds being given up are a developer’s wet dream, there is understandable suspicion as to what is going on.
I am not making accusations, I am just pointing out that the current facility is on a bus line, surrounded by work sites, parking areas, green space and is just a few blocks from a golf course. If the space becomes available, any developer would give their left arm for it. It could not be more perfectly positioned for market rate apartments and luxury condos. It would fetch a fat fee on the open market and give a nice one-year bump to the County budget. So far, the County has not said what they plan on doing with it if abandoned.
On the other hand, green space and parking are scarce to non-existent in the proposed new site and the high cost is already well advertised. The effect on property valuations in the neighborhood would be negative (nobody wants to be next to a jail) increasing the net loss to the city and county.
The County Board points out that the new building would be more convenient for juvenile court judges, juvenile and family court services, and the Douglas County Attorneys and Public Defenders. This would appear to be true, since they would all be housed in one building right next to the new detention center. The Omaha World-Herald in a July 29 editorial has pointed out that no statistics have been provided to show how much stays would be shortened by placing these facilities beside each other. Otherwise it would seem that the convenience is less for the children and families and more for the authorities and service providers.
That same editorial raises other serious questions about this project. For this reason, I strongly recommend putting the project back in the public sphere. This is where governance belongs.
Finally, one more question remains. While it appears that there has been significant progress on reducing the total number of incarcerated youth, there is the continuing blatant racism shown in the fact that of the 70 or so children in jail, only around 5 are Euro-Americans (White). This is simply unacceptable. I encourage the County Board to step up its oversight of both the detention facilities and the pipeline that funnels Black children into them.