By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Some of the young speakers required a booster step to reach the podium and microphone during an outdoor press conference opposing construction of a juvenile detention center in their central city neighborhood. “I’m just a kid, but kids’ opinions matter,” said 10-year-old Joan Vasquez, a participant at Project Renewal, where the rally took place Nov. 21 as the wind whipped participants’ posters and tossed plastic chairs to the ground. “I love my neighbors. I want them to be successful. Why do we need (an even bigger) detention center near my home?”
Joan was one of nine speakers at the event that QC Community Advocacy Network organized. Avery Pearl, who founded the network, said the press conference aimed to allow youth and young adults to express their opinions about plans to expand Scott County’s Juvenile Detention Center “despite its present disparities and the overwhelming community opposition.”
Several dozen people of different ages, faiths and ethnic groups participated, many carrying posters to demonstrate their opposition to the Scott County Board’s plans to build a larger juvenile detention center in Davenport. Project Renewal, a diocesan-supported organization that provides educational and recreational activities for children after school and in the summer, hosted the rally because of its commitment to nurturing, not incarcerating, kids.
The Scott County Board of Supervisors has not specified the location on which to build the 40-bed juvenile detention center (with room to expand) but has purchased property in the Project Renewal neighborhood and recently approved purchase of additional property there, said Ann Schwickerath, Project Renewal’s executive director.
Opponents say construction of a $21.7 million detention center would be detrimental to the neighbors who struggle to make ends meet. Opponents are also upset that the supervisors plan to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help pay for the project, rather than taking it to a referendum. At press time, the Davenport City Council was planning to consider a resolution opposing plans to redevelop the site at West 4th Street and Warren Streets for a larger Scott County Juvenile Detention Center (Quad-City Times, 11-30-21).
“Davenport and our fragile neighborhood is expected to bear the brunt of a brick and mortar project that locks up kids,” Schwickerath told The Catholic Messenger. She sees the project as a “blight” that is not conducive “to the healthy development of a child or adult psyche.”
Opponents say a smaller facility built elsewhere to replace the existing facility would be sufficient, funded with local taxes. The cost savings of a smaller facility should go toward programs and initiatives aimed at helping children and their families to succeed in the community.
“Today, there are systemic injustices in our current juvenile justice system, and as the NAACP’s results from their state audit will show, many of these disparities are the result of systemic racism in the education system,” Alleena Blackwell said at the press conference. She is a graduate of Davenport North High School majoring in elementary education at Western Illinois University and hopes to become a teacher.
Blackwell said success depends on inviting “the young people that we work with to be a part of the decision-making process. Once they’re able to refine — identify their grit, resilience and character that they’ve already developed — their academic performance will improve.”
She noted that according to a recent Sentencing Project report, “no state in the country has placed a higher proportion of Black youth in juvenile facilities than Iowa. In the current Scott County Juvenile Detention Center’s 2020 annual report, it stated Black children made up over 70% of the children they detained. If 70% of our area’s juvenile justice system consists of Black kids, we need to enact programs that specifically help Black kids and the Black community.”
Kylen Phillips, Davenport Central High School’s homecoming king, said, Davenport “is my home, the people here are my family and friends, and we deserve to have the same opportunities as the people in every other city in Scott County. Today, I’m demanding we stop the expansion, address the disparities instead of adding fuel to this crisis and enact solutions that can help empower our underrepresented communities.”
“… I am demanding we stop the expansion of the detention center so we can understand why the disparities in our current juvenile justice system are present. I am demanding we stop the expansion of the detention center because it will only lead to furthering the damage that is being done to my family, friends, and fellow community members. If we do not stop the expansion and address our community’s current juvenile justice crisis at its root causes, we will only be adding fuel to this forest fire.”