(The Center Square) – Using federal COVID-19 funds to build a larger juvenile detention facility is unlawful, according to a letter from 10 community organizations led by The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.
The group sent the letter Wednesday to the Scott County Board of Supervisors, saying the appropriation of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the new detention facility “does not fall under the any of the eligible uses of ARPA funds.”
Leaders of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change, Iowa Cure, Iowa Justice Action Network, Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, One Iowa, Regret No Opportunities and The Sentencing Project also signed the letter, which asked the Scott County Board of Supervisors to not approve the proposal and to instead redirect the funds.
“The planned use of funds violates the purpose and the express language of both the Department of Treasury’s interim and final rules,” the letter said. “Misusing ARPA funding for the new, expanded juvenile detention center exposes the county to the serious risk of federal enforcement action requiring it to reimburse the Treasury Department.”
And regardless of funding source, expanding a juvenile detention facility is bad public policy, the organizations said. They recommend directing the funds toward efforts to prevent children from entering the juvenile justice system.
Scott County’s Board of Supervisors issued an update following its Nov. 22, 2021, meeting that said it assigned $7.25 million in American Rescue Plan Act federal funding to the juvenile detention center project. It classified the project as a “capital investment to public facilities to respond to COVID19 public health emergency” and said it met the county’s goal of “financially responsible government.”
In 2019, the Scott County Board of Supervisors hired Wold Architects & Engineers to assess space needsat the county’s juvenile detention center. Wold estimated the county needed to increase beds from 16 to 64 by 2037.
Scott County’s juvenile detention center has requested $708,000 for personal services, CIP fund and debt service fund for fiscal 2023, which is about double its fiscal year 2022 budget, its administration recommendation for the fiscal year 2023 budget said. The plan for the juvenile detention center includes spending $13.5 million in fiscal year 2023 for facility expansion.