Build Programs Not Jails has issued a statement in opposition to a proposal made by the Champaign County Housing Authority (CCHA) to the Urbana School Board on November 1, 2016. In the proposal, Ed Bland, the executive director of the CCHA, proposed a data sharing agreement between Urbana District 116 schools and the county housing authority. Bland stated that he would use attendance data as a requirement for pubic housing eligibility.
Build Programs Not Jails will deliver the following statement at the USD116 school board meeting tonight, November 15th 2016.
15 November 2016
TO: Urbana School District 116 Board
The mission of Build Programs Not Jails is to promote alternatives to incarceration in Champaign County, Illinois. We believe that every member of our community deserves to be treated with dignity and we envision a safe and thriving community for everyone.
It has come to our attention that on Tuesday, November 1, 2016, the Urbana School Board heard a recommendation by Champaign County Housing Authority executive director, Ed Bland, to collaborate on data collection, specifically that attendance records would be shared between USD 116 and CCHA. During Bland’s presentation he stated,
“…We want to make that a requirement for our families, for the head of the household, that for them to receive housing assistance, they must make sure that the kids are going to school. So that’s why I’m here tonight… to see if we can do an inter-government agreement to monitor the attendance of the kids. I think by doing that we will find that the kids will perform better in school because we will be making that mandatory on the parents for the kids to come to school.”
As an organization that closely follows the complexities of incarceration both in Champaign County as well as across the nation, this proposal seriously concerns us. When asked by a board member what the data would be used for, Bland answered that it would indeed be used against the family from being eligible for public housing should the child in the home not meet attendance requirements.
While many towns have done data sharing to try to combat truancy, a serious consequence of such a collaboration could end in eviction for many families in need. Children who are living in poverty are already at a higher risk of encountering the criminal justice system and eventually being incarcerated. The rates only go up for those individuals who are homeless.
Another serious consequence of such a proposal is that this could turn us towards the criminalization of truancy. In Texas, tens of thousands of students are charged with truancy if they miss 12 days of school or more. These misdemeanor charges end in piles of fines, fees, criminal records, and even sometimes incarceration for youth or their families.
We believe that such a collaboration, the way it was presented on November 1st, would strengthen the school-to-prison pipeline in our county.
Additionally, we need to keep in mind that our friends, family and community members returning from prison are frequently banned from public housing which makes it incredibly difficult for them to reenter society. Formerly incarcerated individuals – many who experienced poverty or homelessness before entering prison – are now faced with it again.
We in no way support the continuation of this cycle of poverty and incarceration that starts at such a young age. We strongly believe that as a community we need to shift the focus away from punitive measures that deepen mistrust and increase rates of incarceration. Instead, we hope that a more compassionate and effective strategy for combating poverty as a systemic problem for the county’s children be made a priority.
Build Programs Not Jails
Photo credit: Jeff Putney