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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.