Joco Opinion

Sarah Smith Nessel — Where is the justice in this situation?

Updated: 2013-12-17T23:57:02Z

By SARAH SMITH NESSEL

Special to The Star

The invitation to jail came home in my son’s backpack.

You never know what sorts of invitations you’ll get in ZIP code 66209. There are Botox parties and trunk shows and charity balls. There are boutique openings and spa specials. And there are jail cells.

In Leawood, although they’re not called “cells.” And they’re not at a mere police department. Police departments and jail cells are just a bit too ... urban, don’t you think? Or perhaps rural. But definitely not Leawood.

No, it turns out that Leawood has “detention areas,” and they are part of the shiny new Leawood Justice Center. It had an open house last week, which I learned about via backpack flier, the primary means of suburban civic communication.

I’d never really thought justice was much of an issue in Leawood, but perhaps I’m naive. My own encounters with Leawood’s finest have mostly involved things like a cell phone dropped into a storm sewer and rogue bats fluttering around in a spare bedroom. In both cases, the responding officers behaved admirably, in that they actually responded and also refrained from rolling their eyes in exasperation.

I’d been watching the Justice Center for months as it rose from a long-vacant chunk of land along Tomahawk Creek Parkway north of 119th Street. The chance to take a tour was too good to pass up, given that it is my sincere hope to never again have reason to step inside. (I like to think of justice as something I read about in the news, not as something I need to pursue, or that will ever need to pursue me.)

Also, I have funded a portion of the building, given that my Trader Joe’s and Cactus Grill addictions contribute handsomely to the sales taxes it was built with. Should I ever need the services of anyone at the Justice Center, I hope this will be taken into consideration.

So I attended the open house, and despite myself, I was impressed. I had really hoped to find some silliness that just screamed of wealthy America’s skewed sense of reality. You know, like high-def flat-screen TVs in the detention area or Swarovski tableware in the break room.

But the Justice Center is refreshingly devoid of over-the-top luxury. Yes, it’s nicely appointed, with some fairly high-def-looking screens here and there, which on open house night featured videos of the building’s construction and interiors. And the detention area does have kind of an industrial-chic vibe — think Chipotle, only without free-range chicken on the menu — but it isn’t quite chic enough that you’d want to spend time there.

The only thing that seemed a bit excessive was the sheer number of free weights and exercise machines in the fitness room, but I tend to be envious of fitness rooms in general. If my house were funded by sales taxes, I’d have some pretty swanky cardio equipment myself.

My only regret related to touring the Justice Center is that the night before the open house, I read a heartbreaking New York Times story about homelessness. It featured a family of 10 — yes, 10, including an infant — living in a filthy, vermin-infested homeless-shelter room of 520 square feet. They’ve been there for years.

After seeing that story and its accompanying photographs, then touring the Justice Center, I realized that a “detainee” in Leawood spends those few hours in much more humane conditions than the children in that family have ever experienced. When the suburban criminal suspect gets substantially nicer accommodations than children who’ve had the bad luck to be born to loser parents, something is wrong.

I’m sure the Leawood Justice Center will live up to its name. I only wish justice was so easy to come by everywhere else.

Freelancer Sarah Smith Nessel writes The Bubble on alternate weeks.

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