Month: November 2016

The Housing Authority Proposal to USD116 and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

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

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois


Photo credit: Jeff Putney


Victory Against the Sales Tax! Now What?

Fellow organizers, friends, and supporters,

We at BPNJ would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all members of our community who have come together to address the issues of mass incarceration and jail construction in Champaign County. We are very lucky to have such strong support in promoting programs within our county that divert our friends and neighbors from jail cells into journeys of healing and justice.

Our county overwhelmingly voted NO against this referendum!

While we will take a moment to celebrate this victory we know that it is but one part of a larger picture of decarceration. We are excited to move forward in our work and would like to offer the following steps (see below) as a place to start.

We would also like to say a special, “Thank You!” to everyone who dove into this campaign against the sales tax referendum and volunteered their time and energy handing out flyers, distributing and displaying yard signs, attending meetings, building relationships with collaborating organizations, making phone calls, sending emails, hosting films and discussions, using social media, and so much more. Champaign-Urbana continues to prove that it cares about these issues and that people will show up for their community.


Members of Black Lives Matter Champaign-Urbana held a rally in opposition to the sales tax at which Illinois State Representative Carol Ammons officially stated she was also against the referendum that would have spent millions on jail construction.                                         Photo credit: Jeff Putney

Specific organizations and individuals that were integral to the success of this campaign include the Graduate Employees Organization Solidarity Committee, Black Lives Matter Champaign-Urbana, Illinois State Representative Carol Ammons, Urbana Alderman Aaron Ammons, the North End Breakfast Club, Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice, Champaign County board member Josh Hartke, Champaign County board member Matt Hiser, incoming board member Robert King, incoming board member Kyle Patterson, Laura Wisekamp, and from the documentary “13th” James Kilgore, Cory Green, and Malkia Cyril.

Lastly we would like to invite you to attend our upcoming meeting on Monday, November 14th at 6:30pm at the IMC (202 S. Broadway, Urbana). Let’s start this post-election season together and not just to defend against jail construction but to actually build real-life alternatives to mass incarceration.


The BPNJ Coordinating Committee



November 8, 2016

The vision that Build Programs Not Jails holds for the future of Champaign County is a just and thriving community where everyone is valued and has equal opportunity.  In coalition with the Graduate Employees’ Organization, Black Lives Matter – Champaign-Urbana, and the North End Breakfast Club we have opposed the so-called public facilities sales tax referendum because it would make it too easy for the County Board to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on jail construction that would move the county further from this vision.

We thank the voters of Champaign County for taking this issue seriously and defeating the referendum, and we pledge to continue to fight for alternatives to incarceration.   

We now call on the County Board to shift directions:  to prioritize decreasing the jail population through investing in diversion, prevention, re-entry, and basic needs. We encourage the new board to take a leadership role in advancing criminal justice reform and in addressing issues of poverty, racism, and inequality in this county.   This includes urgently moving forward on the following key steps to achieving our vision of a fair and thriving community:

  • Provide Necessary Facilities in the Community – It is essential that people can access these services directly in the community, without first having to come into contact with the law enforcement system:
    1. Mental health and substance abuse treatment centers
    2. Shelter for homeless people
    3. Transitional housing for those returning from prison
  • Reform the Criminal Justice System – Many current procedures unfairly impact people of color (particularly Black people) and low-income families,  increase recidivism, and cost more in the long run
    1. End cash bail
    2. Establish a pretrial services program
    3. Make fees and fines more fair
    4. Provide resources for the Racial Justice Task Force
    5. Use money freed by retired bonds to fund alternatives to incarceration
    6. Close the downtown jail
  • Support the Champaign County Nursing Home – the Nursing Home is important to the quality of life of both its residents and their families, especially those that are Medicaid recipients.

A few members of Build Programs, Not Jails stayed up late last night to watch election results roll in and share our vision with the press.

Build Programs, Not Jails can be reached at