Last night Build Programs, Not Jails delivered a statement cementing our position against a sales tax referendum that would heavily fund jail construction in our county. The referendum passed the board with a vote 15-2 in favor of the 1/4 cent sales tax increase for “public facilities” and will be on the ballot for voters in November. Unfortunately, the current proposal allocates millions of dollars towards expanding the satellite jail facility and has zero funding for alternatives to incarceration. The proposal also fails to mention strategies for dealing with Champaign County’s high rates of racial disparity in the jails. Several community members showed up and spoke against the jail construction on the proposal and vowed to fight against the referendum up to election day. Below is the statement delivered by BPNJ and cosigned by the Young Democrats, the North End Breakfast Club, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Graduate Employees Organization, and Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice.
Likely the debate over jail construction has been the most hotly contested political issue in this county in decades. Incarceration is unnecessary for the majority of people who are arrested, and can further disrupt people’s lives, especially for low-income individuals. However, the county board’s referendum is a quick-fix solution aimed at ignoring the problems and solutions that the community has brought to this board for the last four and a half years. We reject this plan and hope that the county will come forward with a solution to these problems that breaks with the history of excessive reliance on incarceration to solve social problems, and which contributes to eliminating the racial disparity that has become a persistent feature of our county jail. It is time for a new direction.