Reclaiming Justice

“I was in jail for a nonviolent offense and sat there for six months,” Russell Cunningham testified at the Reclaim Campaign Launch about his experience of waiting in Cook County Jail for a trial. At Russell’s bond hearing, which lasted only two minutes, the judge set a $50,000 bond. Russell had to pay ten percent of his bond to be released from jail.

Since he could not afford it, taxpayers spent $143 dollars a day to keep Russell locked up. In other words, we spent over $25,000 keeping a man who had never been convicted of a violent offense in jail for six months. Finally, he was released on probation. Russell’s long wait for a trial damaged relationships with his family and resulted in losing his job.

But what if it had been different?

What if, instead of sitting in jail for months, Russell had been brought to a local church where he could be a part of a restorative justice peace hub? What if he had learned conflict management skills, built a relationship with a trained, supportive mentor, gained new problem-solving skills, connected with drug treatment services, and changed the direction of his life? A peace hub with its range of resources and relationships could have helped him to continue working, supporting his family, and getting the treatment he needed.

It is this vision of transformation that led Community Renewal Society, in partnership with Gamaliel Metro Chicago, to launch the Reclaim Campaign on November 7, 2013. Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle, and several County Commissioners joined us to express their public support.

Our churches are searching for effective ways to stop the violence devastating our communities. Restorative justice peace hubs provide one viable means of addressing conflict before it escalates into violence while, at the same time, helping formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter their communities upon their release from jail. But, our communities often lack the resources to help residents deal with mental health issues, drug addiction, and violence.

Therefore, the Reclaim Campaign calls on the Cook County justice system to reduce violence by funding community-based restorative justice peace hubs along with mental health services and drug rehabilitation programs through money saved from the release of nonviolent detainees. The Reclaim Campaign calls on our elected officials to reduce the Cook County Jail population by 1,000 nonviolent detainees by the end of 2014.

The Cook County justice system is broken. The jail is over-crowded and primarily detains nonviolent individuals, often low-income people of color, for long periods of time. There is general public agreement that the jail wastes taxpayer dollars, damages lives, and perpetuates violence.

Members of our communities like Russell need support and opportunities to rebuild their lives. Unfortunately, there was no peace hub for Russell, and the money we spent on locking him up did nothing to stem the epidemic of violence in our communities. The Reclaim Campaign can lower the population at Cook County Jail, divert public dollars into restorative practices, and, thereby, build safer communities.

Support the Reclaim campaign by celebrating with us at Community Renewal Society’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Faith in Action Assembly on January 20, 2014. Join over 800 people of faith as we honor the prophetic vision of Dr. King by having our voices heard by our elected officials and taking action to end unjust incarceration, prevent violence, and promote justice.

Together we shall reclaim, rebuild, and restore our communities.

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