It costs taxpayers nearly $500 million every year to sustain the overcrowded Cook County Jail. The jail houses over 9,000 people per day, but there is little evidence that this expense is making us safer. Meanwhile, Cook County allocates a mere $1.9 million into violence prevention grants for community organizations. It's time to reevaluate our priorities.
We are at a critical moment in the 2015 Cook County budgeting process for public input and your County Commissioner needs to hear from you. The Cook County Preliminary Budget Forecast includes an increase of $27 million for the Cook County Jail and no increase for violence prevention grants. President Toni Preckwinkle will propose the 2015 Cook County Budget in October and the Board of Commissioners will vote on it by November.
It's time for Cook County to invest in preventing violence instead of reacting to it. We cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem.
There is plenty of evidence that our current public safety strategy is not working. Restorative justice, on the other hand, offers a solution to addressing violence at its roots. Restorative Justice Peace Hubs empower local communities to address violence by providing spaces for accountability, reconciliation, and restitution when conflict arises. Peace hubs are spaces where victims and offenders can both be heard, start healing, repair broken relationships, and move forward.
Most recently, the Reclaim Campaign won commitments from Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans to divert 100 low-level offenders to Restorative Justice Peace Hubs. How many more people could be diverted to the Restorative Justice Pilot Program if additional resources were allocated toward these types of violence prevention programs?
Too often, when our communities approach decision makers about increasing resources to violence prevention programs, we hear a similar refrain of tired responses:
“How much does it cost?”
“I don’t think we can afford this right now.”
“Will this really work?”
“We need to do more evaluation.”
Yet, when thousands of people are sent to jail every year, we never stop to ask how much it costs, whether we can afford to do this, if it really works, or whether we have done proper evaluation.
This investment would represent a 50% increase to the current violence prevention grants fund. More importantly, if we can pay $500 million to maintain the status quo at the County Jail, then surely we can find $1 million to be proactive about violence and stop the next conflict before another person loses their life.