Justice center gets go ahead - again

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By Susan Sharp

At Monday night’s county commission meeting the group agreed to move forward with a justice center. That is great.

But let’s be honest we have been here before.

In fact, many times before. The last three budget cycles have all had allocations for a new justice center.

Why the hold ups and hold offs?

It could be any number of reasons. From the commission’s apprehension about borrowing money to some feeling ambivalent about taking care of criminals the delays have happened.

But now the plan is to take the original $7.3 million and move forward. Maybe some of the commissioners recognized a good deal when they saw one. County Finance Director Jeff Marlow told the commission stimulus money was available for the construction of a justice center. Marlow then informed the group the interest rate on repayment carried a discount; a 35-percent discount actually. He then nudged the commission to act quickly because at the end of 2010 the money is gone.

However, even as Marlow was the bearer of good news some of the commissioners shied away from voting from yes. One even suggested that entering into this project with a new commission due to be seated might not be prudent. Wait a minute. If they are going to follow that line of thinking then maybe there won’t be any business conducted between now and the election. But on Monday they trudged on and despite a slim margin, the justice center was green lighted.

What does this mean for the community? The first thing it means is that the center is going to be for the community. It is not just a jail to warehouse more prisoners. While it will alleviate jail overcrowding, there is much more at play here.

To begin with, security will be better. For those of you who don’t frequent the courthouse, security is an issue. Yes, there have been improvements made. However, make no mistake when a judge has to ride in an elevator with a man he is going to sentence later that day, there is a problem. When a prisoner in chains lunges at a district attorney, there is a problem. But it is not just court officials who could be at risk. For a moment imagine the innocent people who could be hurt if chaos occurred. And make no mistake on any given day with a full docket that is a distinct possibility.

But with a new justice will come enhanced security measures. The entrances and exits will be more controlled along with improved access for the handicapped. As it stands now, handicapped individuals are truly at a disadvantage when forced to maneuver the courthouse.

So let’s review- enhanced security, improved handicap access and in the process jail overcrowding is alleviated. Of course with that last one the county may also dodge a federal judge stepping in, ordering a new jail to his specifications in the process.

Looks like in spite of half itself the county commission has done the right thing.

Now just as when the commission voted to lower the number of commissioners to 10 instead of 15, the community can pat them on them back.

At this point we can only urge the group not to rescind the decision on the justice center. Because when it comes to overturning its own good work, we have been there before too.