Survey Points to Prioritizing Mental Health, Community Safety
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
Results of a survey about the elements of the Justice System Improvement Program (JSIP) were presented to the Benton County Board of Commissioners during the June 14, 2022 work session. Benton County voters want their local government to prioritize investments that address mental health, community safety and people who are navigating homelessness, according to a poll commissioned by the County designed to gather feedback on projects related to the JSIP. The survey, conducted by DHM Research, interviewed 300 respondents between May 23 – 25, 2022, with a margin of error at ±5.7%
The survey found that voters are generally satisfied with County services, especially parks (80%) and sheriff enforcement and patrol (67%). Overall, 41% of respondents believe that Benton County is on the right track, compared to 38% who say it is on the wrong track. Top issues for residents include homelessness (32%), housing affordability (21%), and crime/safety (13%).
Only 23% of respondents were aware of JSIP, a multi-year project based on a comprehensive 2018 assessment of the community safety and justice system. The project is focused on investments in mental health and treatment for addiction, corrections, emergency operations, law enforcement, and the courts. Of those who were aware, only 6% knew that the JSIP includes additional mental health resources.
A new crisis center and corrections facility with mental health beds are top priorities for voters. Among respondents, 64% said the crisis center is a high or very priority, versus 13% giving it a low priority. A corrections facility received similar support, at 56% high priority versus 20% low priority. A plurality of residents support a new Sheriff’s office and emergency operations center (48-20), while support is lower for repurposing the historic courthouse (34-34) and building a new county courthouse (26-46). Overall, half of respondents said that a new crisis center is their top priority.
Seven in ten surveyed believe that a new crisis center and corrections facility with mental health beds will help address homelessness.
The survey asked an informed question about a hypothetical ballot measure that would provide funding to all five projects at a cost of $95 million. Respondents were split on this question, with 46% supporting and 46% opposing.
“These results tell us that Benton County voters care about mental health, homelessness and community safety,” said Commissioner Xan Augerot. “Voters see the crisis center and corrections facility as part of the solution alongside the County’s broader approach to homelessness with the work of the HOPE Advisory Board. We are looking forward to engaging further with folks across the County to share our vision for people-centered justice programs and facilities, and to listen to the needs of our communities.”
The Board will determine a preliminary Justice System Facilities package in August. Funding for these new facilities will come from a variety of sources including nearly $30 million in resources leveraged by the County including state and federal funds for the Crisis Center, Courthouse, and a local bond measure, planned for May, 2023. A final determination on what will be included in the bond measure will be made in December. Additional opportunities for public engagement, including public meetings and small group presentations will take place next fall.
Members of the public may sign up to receive updates and announcements related to the JSIP online at: https://www.co.benton.or.us/justice/page/stay-informed.