Jail task force focuses on two items

Jail task force focuses on two items

URBANA — Although a task force on Champaign County's justice system last week issued 10 recommendations for preventing incarceration and reducing recidivism, a Tuesday night county board study session on the report looked primarily at two items.

One dealt with funding a series of alternative programs; the other had to do with helping former inmates adjust to life outside the correctional system.

The task force report, drawn up over the last year, will be incorporated into another report being drafted for the county by a California-based consultant. That report, studying whether the county needs to expand, remodel or raze its current jail facilities, is due in September.

Chris Alix, a Democratic county board member from Urbana, told task force members that the board would need more help determining the cost of various jail alternatives and whether they could effectively reduce correctional system costs.

One of the more controversial parts of the task force report recommended devoting more revenue from the county's quarter-cent public safety sales tax on jail alternatives, with less money spent on new buildings and systems.

"Most of these programs are designed so that if we start doing smarter things in the justice system, to screen out who we think needs to be in jail waiting for trials or not waiting, or using methods to reduce crime and keep people from ever showing up in our facilities in the first place, the more we can do that successfully the more that frees up money and creates a virtuous cycle," said Champaign Democrat Michael Richards.

Aaron Ammons and Marlon Mitchell urged the board to devote more resources to re-entry programs for former prison and jail inmates.

"When you return from the Illinois Department of Corrections," said Mitchell, "you're basically given 50 bucks, a bus ticket and you're right back in a society saying, be productive. A lot of times there are a lot of barriers there, whether it's housing, employment, different things of that nature, things that become obstacles for people returning."

County board Chairman Alan Kurtz, a Champaign Democrat, said the recommendations in the task force report "make sense," and he believes many of them can be implemented, with some revenue suggestions in the report.

"Money is always the big sticking point," he said. "I think that's one of the main points of this task force, to be able to find other areas of funding, that there is money out there that we could apply for. That's going to be a major help."

Kurtz noted that the county's judicial system already is taking steps to work cooperatively and reduce inmate populations.

"I promise this community that this was not an empty meeting. This wasn't just to hear ourselves talk," he said. "This is going to be a work in progress for the next 10, 15 years."

Kurtz said he believes the county will end up spending some money on its jail buildings, "but I just don't see anywhere near 15 or 20 million dollars for any new facility. I don't see that happening at all. We already have 100 empty beds. Why would we need a new facility, to have 200 empty beds?"