Muscatine County has a big jail.
With an official capacity of 254 inmates, it’s bigger than jails in Johnson and Scott, counties with about three times as many residents as Muscatine County. As Sheriff C.J. Ryan boasted in his 2018 annual report, it’s the 14th-largest county in Iowa, with the seventh-largest county jail.
The decision to overbuild jail capacity was purposeful. The sheriff’s office has deals with nearby counties and the federal government to house inmates, which brings in revenue to pay down the debt incurred to expand the jail a decade ago.
So it was bad enough to learn that the head of an Iowa jail has publicized his bigoted views, but it is especially disturbing coming from a county that has intentionally positioned itself as a regional incarceration hub.
Dean Naylor, administrator of the Muscatine County Jail for the past 10 years, has posted written statements and videos online with hateful comments about Muslims and LGBTQ people, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported last week. He calls Muslims “pawns of the devil” and warns that acceptance of the “gay lifestyle” causes great harm.
Ryan, the elected sheriff and Naylor’s direct supervisor, told the Capital Dispatch, “I have no comment on the personal beliefs of Mr. Naylor or any of my other employees.”
County supervisors also have declined to take action or condemn Naylor’s statements.
It is not an innocent matter of differing personal beliefs when civil liberties are violated. In 2013, a Muslim inmate filed a federal lawsuit against Naylor, claiming he denied the inmate’s request for a copy of the Quran. That case was dismissed, but not because the facts were disputed.
This should make other jurisdictions reluctant to keep sending their prisoners to the big jail in Muscatine. In Johnson County, which pays Muscatine County to house inmates, county officials say they might reconsider the arrangement after hearing about Naylor’s comments.
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“What I want going forward is the public knows that anybody Johnson County has custody of is afforded every single one of their civil liberties all of the time,” Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan told The Gazette.
If you would turn a blind eye to blatant Islamophobia in the justice system, as the Muscatine County sheriff has done, shame on you. But even then, you still can see the dollars and cents of the situation — if other counties dump Muscatine and its prejudiced jailer, taxpayers there still will have an expensive jail to pay for, but nobody to fill it.
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