Jail report comes in for criticism at hearing
SPRINGFIELD -- The consultant hired by the Champaign County Board to study the county's criminal justice system and its facilities heard from nearly 20 people Thursday night who had criticisms of his draft report, released earlier this week.
Following a more than two-hour public hearing, Alan Kalmanoff, executive director of the Institute for Law and Policy Planning, said "there are major things that I've heard that are really keeping me thinking," but he said he didn't know the extent to which he would revise his draft report.
Kalmanoff said he's already "made major changes" to his draft report, but declined to be specific. A final report and an action plan for the county is expected later this month.
A number of citizens objected to his recommendation for the creation of a county criminal justice advisory board, made up mostly of officials such as the chief judge, state's attorney and sheriff, that would not meet in public or include members of the public. Earlier this week Kalmanoff said the board would include "the people who have their hands on the keys to the gate."
Lynn Branham, a University of Illinois law professor, said the advisory board also should include representatives of the defense bar, police and a member of the public.
The lack of a public member, she said, "is the antithesis of restorative justice."
James Kilgore of Champaign, a member of the CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, said the board would have "no community representation, no community oversight, no community accountability, and is basically supposed to meet in private without keeping any public record.”
Kalmanoff defended the idea, however, saying that it forces key players in the criminal justice system to meet and work cooperatively to reduce jail overcrowding.
"The meetings might be in private but the outcomes will be public," he said.
Later in the meeting he noted that Presiding Judge Tom Difanis, Sheriff Dan Walsh and State's Attorney Julia Rietz already meet regularly to assess jail use.
"These folks are going to have to learn to work together in a slightly larger group in a broader way," he said.
Kilgore also asserted that the report focused more on buildings and adding to facilities than on creating new programs for people.
"If we look at the resources the biggest resource allocation in the recommendations are those for facilities. If we are to transform the criminal justice system in Champaign County, we need a fundamental shift of resources away from buildings, away from incarceration, and toward community-based programs and prevention," he said. "That statement is nowhere to be found in the report, and without that I don't know how we can move in a different direction."
He noted there are 14 separate recommendations regarding facilities "yet nowhere is there a recommendation for an allocation of funds for ... community-based mental health, such as a 24-hour mental health crisis center."
Former county board Steve Moser said he was concerned when he saw a recommendation in the ILPP report to close the downtown jail as quickly as possible, and work to add more cells at the sateillite jail in east Urbana.
"If you go back and close one of these without implementing all these recommendations that I've heard, you're going to be right back to hauling (prisoners) somewhere else and bringing them back, and it's going to throw the criminal justice system into a tailspin," Moser said. "I don't want that jail downtown closed until you come up with an option. I want to see a plan where you can make this satellite jail (expansion) work."
Marlon Mitchell, director of prison ministry at the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Champaign, objected to the report's reference to the appearance of a racial disparity in Champaign County's criminal justice system.
"The verbiage about the appearance is what bothers me. Because I'm here to tell you that it's not the appearance, it's exactly what's happening," Mitchell told Kalmanoff.
Diane Zell, president of the Champaign County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she thought the final report should include three specific recommendations: that mental health services at the jail should be provided by local providers familiar with local offenders, that there should be an outpatient treatment program that would divert mentally ill offenders and that public safety sales tax money and federal and private grants can be used to mental health services.
Although it was not a county board meeting, a number of board members were in attendance, including Democrats Alan Kurtz, Pattsi Petrie, Astrid Berkson, Giraldo Rosales, Rachel Schwartz, Chris Alix, Josh Hartke, James Quisenberry and Lorraine Cowart, and Republicans Jim McGuire, Stan Harper, Aaron Esry, John Jay, Jon Schroeder and Stan James.