Reclaim Victory: Demolishing Jail Walls, Rebuilding Communities

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The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18-19

The Reclaim Campaign to reduce violence in our communities is celebrating two major victories!  Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart publicly announced a plan on November 30, 2016 to tear down three divisions of the Cook County Jail over the next two years. This demolition is possible because the jail population has been significantly reduced by over 2,000 individuals since 2013.

Three years ago, CRS launched the Reclaim Campaign with the goal of moving resources away from the overly punitive Cook County criminal justice system into community-based violence prevention efforts. Our congregations and coalition partners advocated for:

  • Reforms that would reduce the Cook County Jail population by releasing low-level detainees;

  • Tearing down buildings of the Cook County Jail, once the population was reduced, so that savings could be generated;

  • Reinvesting savings from the reduction of the jail population and tear down of buildings into community-based violence prevention and restorative justice efforts.

The jail demolition is a critical milestone and a testament to all that the Reclaim Campaign has fought for over the last three years. Our witness through meetings with elected officials, testifying at public hearings, and taking action at public meetings helped to make this day possible. Our victories to increase diversion opportunities, reform bond court, and decrease the lengths of stay for people going through Cook County Jail each contributed to this momentous victory. The demolition at the Cook County Jail will make it easier for the county to continue increasing investments into community-based violence prevention and restorative justice efforts that, unlike the jail, can actually make our communities safer.

As people of faith, we believe in community-based violence prevention and restorative justice because these align with God’s call in Luke to proclaim justice for the oppressed and release of those who are captive. Our justice system in this country was not set up to repair harm, restore lives, or to rebuild our communities. Instead, our criminal justice system most often seeks to only punish communities of color and further victimize those already feeling the worst effects of structural racism. However, restorative justice alternatives empower our communities to address the root causes of conflict and violence instead of perpetuating the violence the criminal justice system inflicts on people’s lives.

This victory is made more meaningful because it is accompanied by a necessary reinvestment of resources into violence prevention.

We are ecstatic to celebrate another major victory as President Preckwinkle and the Cook County Board of Commissioners recently increased the funding for community-based violence prevention in the FY17 Cook County Budget from $3.2 to $6.2 million!

The increase in funding represents a significant infusion of resources to organizations on the forefront of community violence prevention at a time of great need for many neighborhoods doing their best to stop the bleeding while social service budgets are being devastated by budget issues at the city and state level. This is the kind of significant reinvestment of resources we had hoped to see and we applaud the leadership of President Preckwinkle and the Board of Commissioners that voted for this increase.

We celebrate these victories knowing there is still much work to do to build a peaceful and safe world for us all. The demolition and reinvestment symbolize what is possible when we dare to envision a world where we address violence by repairing the harm that was caused, restoring people unto right relationships, and rebuilding the capacity of our communities to address these issues without the need of a system that causes more harm through punishment. These wins are a glimmer of hope as we dream of and work towards a world in which the oppressed and captive are set free from the burdens of a justice system that does not make us safer.