Forum to Present Alternatives to Incarceration
By Jim Meadows
On Thursday night, the Champaign County Board approved a consultant to study whether the county may need additional jail space. The Berkley, California-based Institute for Law and Public Policy Planning was chosen on a 15-to 12 party-line vote, with Democrats prevailing.
Meanwhile, on Friday night, a group opposed to jail expansion will present alternatives to putting people behind bars.
Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice is holding the forum at the city council chambers of the Urbana City Building at 6 PM. The event will be shown on UPTV, Urbana’s government and public access TV channel.
One of the panelists is Champaign resident James Kilgore. He’s with Citizens With Convictions, a group that argues for the rights of convicted felons; he also serves on the Champaign County Community Justice Task Force, which is studying the jail needs issue for an upcoming report to the County Board. Kilgore says that instead of increasing the number of people who are incarcerated, the nation is actually seeing a shift in the other direction.
“What’s happening across the country is de-carceration, taking people out of jail, prison closures,” said Kilgore. “We found in the last three years for the first time, the number of people in jails and prison across the country has declined, for the first time in more than three decades. “
Kilgore argues that increases in the jail and prison population in past years has targeted vulnerable groups such as the mentally ill, substance abusers and the homeless --- and that preventive services would be cheaper and better for society. He says diversion programs such as Mental Health Court and Drug Court are helpful, but only step in after someone has been charged with a crime. Kilgore says Champaign County should look at approaches that keep people from being charged with crimes unnecessarily in the first place.
Other speakers scheduled to appear at the public forum include Diana Lenik of the American Civil Liberties Union of Champaign County, Diane Zell of the Champaign County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Gilberto Rosas of the C-U Immigration Forum, and the Rev. Zernial Bogin, President of the Champaign County Black Chamber of Commerce.