Unanimous Voice Opposes New Jail at Champaign County Board

Another crowd of people showed up for a second week to oppose plans for expansion of the Champaign County jail. Several individuals spoke during public comment. Among them were:

Mikhail Lyubansky, who writes and teaches about restorative justice, said, "Jail is just one strategy, not the only one" to public safety and called on the County Board to look into alternatives to incarceration.

Peter Campbell of the GEO Solidarity Committee said, "To argue that we should expand a jail in order to treat prisoners better is perverse: any public official who makes this argument is trading on the lives of the most vulnerable in our community for their own political gain."

Chris Evans spoke about the history of the public safety quarter cent sales tax, passed by voters in 1998. The sales tax ought to be brought back to voters, he said.

Rebecca Ginsburg, a UIUC professor, pointed out the failures of the criminal justice system, citing the 51% recidivism rate in Illinois. She also called for alternatives to incarceration.

Aaron Ammons, of CUCPJ, called plans sell off new jail beds an "auction" selling off black, brown, and poor white people.

Patsy Howell, of Urbana, spoke of her own experience in the county jail where women have little or no privacy. She said one woman who asked for a sanitary napkin had one thrown to her "as if she was a dog."

Ken Salo, urban planning professor at UIUC, said "Unfortunately, the increasingly common form of public housing is jails and prisons."

Not one member from the public came to give their support for the plans for a new county jail.

Below is the press release from CU Citizens for Peace and Justice:

 

For Immediate Release: February 7, 2012

Subject: Proposed County Jail Extension

The Champaign- Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ) shares the concern expressed by the County Board for the conditions in the downtown jail. We agree that it is a serious problem requiring meaningful action.

However, this is not simply a construction issue: a question of to build or not to build. Rather, we view the resolution of the jail problem as an opportunity for the Board to open up a broad discussion with the citizens of this county on the issue of public safety and explore ways to reduce the number of people incarcerated in Champaign County.

Unfortunately, the agenda for the Facilities Committee meeting of February 7, which proposes the formation of a “Jail Space Improvement Planning Team,”  does not reflect this approach.  Dozens of citizens attended last week’s study session on the jail issue, with prominent voices from many sectors of the county coming forward to urge the Board to proceed with extreme caution on the construction proposal. These citizens advised the Board to find ways to direct increased resources to programs of prevention and alternatives to incarceration. Speaker after speaker noted that the Board would be making a decision involving millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and that the underutilization of recently constructed capital projects such as the Juvenile Detention Center and the Nursing Home warranted a serious review of past practice before allocating more resources for infrastructure.

Moreover, the public input and the Board deliberations emphasized the  need for further discussion and debate within the community before taking any decision to begin a multi-million dollar jail project.  Therefore, we urge the Facilities Committee to halt plans to constitute their Jail Space Improvement Planning Team and instead ask the Board to assemble a Public Safety Review Committee which would include participation from a range of stakeholders in the community and would consider the jail issue in the context of problems within the criminal justice system as a whole.  While we desire to eliminate the deplorable conditions in the downtown jail, spending money on jail construction cannot be viewed apart from the lack of resources for mental health, substance abuse,  and re-entry  in Champaign County. Moreover, building a jail will do nothing to reduce the percentage of African-Americans imprisoned in our county. The Board needs to proceed with caution, bring all sectors into the decision-making process, and address the jail issue as a serious matter of justice and political accountability, not simply a building  project.

Statement from Peter Campell of GEO Solidarity Committee on Jail

My name is Peter Campbell; I’m a Ph.D. Candidate and Teaching Assistant in Communication and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois.  I’m also a volunteer tutor in the Danville Correctional Center.  Today I’m speaking on behalf of the solidarity committee of the Graduate Employees Organization, Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300, to join all of the other voices today in opposition to the proposed Champaign County satellite jail expansion. 

I want to echo what has already been said, and what will be said: that the best way to address problems related to incarceration in our community—including overcrowded jails—is to support municipal and community initiatives that reduce incarceration.  We all know that many of the folks locked up in the downtown jail are there for non-violent offenses: if our solution is to make more space for more prisoners, then we’ll only be making the problem worse. 

But today I want to specifically address the claims made last week by States’ Attorney Reitz, some members of the County Board, and others--that expanding the satellite jail is a human rights issue because of the poor conditions that women and vulnerable population prisoners currently face in the downtown facility. 

If women prisoners are facing poor conditions, it is because of the completely wrongheaded approach to incarceration that has been taken by the very people urging that we expand the satellite jail.  There’s just no reason for us to believe that anyone will be treated better at a different facility, run by the same folks who admit to treating inmates so poorly right now. 

We all know that conditions in the downtown jail are bad—if the States’ Attorney and the Sheriff’s office are so concerned with these conditions, why haven’t they been working to alleviate them already?  We know that more room exists at the satellite facility now—the expansion proposal is not about reducing overcrowding, but giving the county an opportunity to raise money by selling bed space to state and federal clients.   The best way to improve conditions in an overcrowded facility is to reduce the number of people locked up. 

Study after study shows that poor conditions—especially for women, queer, and trans prisoners—are not just a problem with overcrowding.  In fact, the evidence is overwhelming that prisoners in the United States—particularly women, queer, and trans inmates—tend to face poor conditions because of their treatment at the hands of prison administration.   Research also shows that expanding jails does not help with overcrowding—expanded facilities are just filled with even more prisoners, meaning that under the existing proposal we’ll just be switching a smaller overcrowded facility for a larger one.    

I guarantee that if the human rights of women prisoners are being violated in the downtown facility—and given my limited experience with jails and prisons, I have no doubt that they are—that they will continue to be violated in any other facility they are sent to.  This is an obvious point, because the same people who are ultimately responsible for the downtown jail will be responsible for the newly expanded facility.  These people have as good as told us that the abuse of prisoners is happening right now, under their watch.   

Conditions in prisons and jails are terrible for women, queer, and trans inmates, period.  Expanding our jail space will only increase the number of people—most of whom will continue to be locked up for non-violent offenses—facing these poor conditions.

Jail and prison is a terrible place.  Let’s work together as a community to keep people out of it.  To argue that we should expand a jail in order to treat prisoners better is perverse: any public official who makes this argument is trading on the lives of the most vulnerable in our community for their own political gain. 

 
Peter Odell Campbell
Ph.D. Candidate and Teaching Assistant
Department of Communication 
Department of Gender and Women's Studies
Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Statement from Sue Keller of NAMI

I am an Urbana resident, community mental health provider, and am here as a volunter representing National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Champaign County.  Instead of focusing on using more public money for jail expansion or replacement, whether there is current overcrowding or not, I offer that we can partner with the board to look at a full spectrum of possibilities in this problem solvin effort.  Prevention, as well as the diversion and specialty court programs the State's Attorney and Public defender's offices are already implementing with much success, are working and NAMI-CC would be honored to partner with the board in helping create just and effective solutions to the challenges.

Sue Keller

video/audio of county board meetings

You can find video of last week's discussion (Jan. 31) of the jail issue on the County Board website:

http://www.youtube.com/user/champaigncountyclerk?feature=watch

 

You can listen to audio from last night (Feb. 7) at:

http://www.co.champaign.il.us/countybd/COW_ELUC_CF_HT/120207audiob.mp3

 

 

 

Has the "public safety" sales tax actually expired?

From above article: "Chris Evans spoke about the history of the public safety quarter cent sales tax, passed by voters in 1998. The sales tax ought to be brough back to voters, he said."

It is my understanding that this sales tax, even though it possessed an expiration date, was quietly renewed by the county board without even bringing this issue to the voters thanks to a loophole in state regulations. And so, if another public safety sales tax is presented to the voters, this would be in addition to the one that we already have.

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