Panel touts shift to jail alternatives

Panel touts shift to jail alternatives

Task force raps failure to maintain facilities, suggests tax dollars could be better spent

URBANA — A citizens' report on Champaign County's justice system recommends gradually shifting money from the county's quarter-cent public safety sales tax away from facilities into alternatives to traditional jail confinement.

The recommendation is one of 10 contained in a report by the community justice task force and forwarded to the Champaign County Board. The board will hold a study session on the report at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Brookens Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.

The task force report made no recommendation about whether the county needs to tear down, remodel or expand either of its correctional facilities, but it criticizes the county for failing to adequately maintain "its facilities, resulting in a 30-year-old facility (the downtown jail) that is barely usable. In the future, adequate funds should be set aside for regular maintenance of criminal justice facilities and development of a long term repair and maintenance plan that is proactive."

Following are the recommendations of the 10-member task force that had two county board members — Democrats Astrid Berkson and Michael Richards — and included representatives of social service agencies and attorneys:

— Integrate restorative justice principles throughout the justice system.

— Expand pretrial services into a comprehensive pretrial services program.

— Develop a coordinated system of care for behavioral health services (mental health/substance use).

— Expand community diversion and sentencing sanctions.

— Establish a re-entry program for those returning from the Illinois Department of Corrections.

— Identify adequate funding for recommended strategies, including an increase in the percentage of the public safety sales tax funds for preventive measures from 5 percent to 30 percent.

— Create a council to systematically plan, coordinate and evaluate services and sentencing options.

— Form a racial justice task force to address issues of disproportional incarceration.

— Collect data and measure outcomes to inform decision-making.

— Engage the public and criminal justice officials in system change.

The task force accuses the county of limited spending on "evidence-based alternatives to incarceration," while using most of its public safety sales tax money on construction and operations costs. In 2012, for example, 71 percent of the more than $4 million from the quarter-cent sales tax went to paying off construction bonds and 18 percent went to operational costs.

Only 5 percent went to programs to reduce recidivism and 4 percent was dedicated to criminal justice system technology programs.

"In determining funding priorities going forward, the task force proposes re-distribution of the public safety sales tax with an allocation plan that appropriates at minimum 30 power of the tax toward alternatives to incarceration," the report says. "When fund changes make it possible starting in 2019, the majority of public safety sales tax revenues should be dedicated to programming that keeps people out of jail, which will save the county even more money that can be used on programs to continue to reduce recidivism and incarceration (and crime in Champaign County)."

Almost all of the $7.5 million that the county spends on correctional costs is spent on operations, says the report. It notes that of five comparable downstate counties, Champaign County's spending on health care and food are the second lowest.

"However," the report says, "Champaign County's FY 2012 expenditures for jail medical expenses alone — $609,520 — were three times as much as the county's entire budget for reducing recidivism ($203,000). Thus, the only readily apparent way to reduce operating costs at Champaign County's correctional facilities is to reduce the number of inmates in its high-security jails. Cutting the costs of incarceration using any number of methods would free up money that could be used on anti-recidivism programs and programs to keep juveniles out of the justice system."

The task force report is separate from a jail needs assessment study now underway by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning of Berkeley, Calif. That study is due in September and is to include a review of the task force recommendations.

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