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Needs Assessment Submitted: What Next?

Sep 30, 2013 | by admin

On September 24th, Dr. Alan Kalmanoff presented the needs assessment on the criminal justice system to the County Board. This brought an investigation which lasted more than a year to a close. Kalmanoff’s report largely concurred with what the Board appointed Community Justice Task Force had presented in their submission in June. Both have emphasized the need for a thorough re-working of the criminal justice system and downplayed any notion of building new jails cells.

On September 24th, Dr. Alan Kalmanoff presented the needs assessment on the criminal justice system to the County Board. This brought an investigation which lasted more than a year to a close. With the 272 page report from Kalmanoff in hand, the Board is ready to make decisions about whether to fund any construction or new preventive programs. Kalmanoff’s report largely concurred with what the Board appointed Community Justice Task Force had presented in their submission in June. Both have emphasized the need for a thorough re-working of the criminal justice system and downplayed any notion of building new jail cells. Like the Task Force, Kalmanoff envisioned a system which would reduce the demand for jail space by releasing more people in the pre-trial phase, inducing city police to issue citations instead of arrests for minor infractions and carefully screening people in need of mental health and substance abuse treatment when they enter the jail. Both Kalmanoff and the Task Force called for the setting up or expansion of existing services in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and re-entry for people returning from jail and prison.

The 2014 Budget

Between receiving Kalmanoff’s report and November 30th, the Board must finalize the budget for 2014. This decision-making process will force them to confront how they will spend taxpayer dollars in the coming year. Members of CUCPJ and others who have opposed the jail project from the outset have called for much more of the Public Safety Sales Tax to be devoted to prevention than jail construction and policing. Since 1998 Champaign County has levied a 1/4% tax on all sales. At present this brings in about $4.6 million a year. Only 5% currently goes to prevention. The Task Force called for that figure to increase to 30%.

Public Participation: A New Precedent?

Regardless of what happens with the budget, the debates around the jail issue have prompted a vast re-think about how criminal justice functions in this county. A range of activists and advocates have highlighted how the jail houses enormous numbers of people who don’t belong there-people with mental health problems, substance abuse issues as well as nearly a fifth of those locked up having been charged with nothing more serious than a non-DUI traffic offense. In addition, both African American community members and student groups have done studies which show the disproportionate prosecution of black people in the county’s courts. While African Americans comprise only 13% of the county’s population, they are consistently more than half of those in the jail.

The participation by the public in these debates has been welcomed by many Board members and officials. Hopefully this will set a precedent where the popular voice becomes an active force in local politics far beyond merely casting ballots in elections.