International Women’s Day Drawing by Maya Bauer

Maya Bauer women faces

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Jewish Voice for Peace and the Prophetic Tradition

The growth of the national organization Jewish Voice for Peace stems—in terms of recent history—from critical responses to Israel’s behavior during the 2nd Intifada, which began in late 2000. Among the local movements that have been incorporated into JVP is Not In My Name, a Chicago-based group to which I was connected at that time. These 15 years have seen increasingly open criticism and rebellion among Jewish-Americans against the policies and dictates of mainstream Jewish Institutions and their essentially unwavering support for Israeli depredations in occupied Palestine. In Champaign-Urbana, the recent formation of a local JVP chapter is significantly due to the efforts of Samantha Brotman, an Arabic-speaking scholar at the University of Illinois.

This current movement of conscience has deep historical roots which have been continuously re-imagined throughout the Jewish-American experience, including involvement in labor, civil rights, and anti-war movements.

As a 10-year-old in 1960 studying the Jewish Bible at a Reform synagogue in West Los Angeles, I read the following words in a textbook written by the rabbi of that synagogue, Mordecai Soloff, in “When the Jewish People Was Young” (1934):

“Amos was the first prophet to write out his messages, and the others followed him.… In his own lifetime, the people paid very little attention to what he said. That is only natural. People did not like to hear him say that some of the Kohanim (priests) were not good Jews. … Amos explained to all his people that the rich should be fair to the poor, that the judges should be honest, and that all people should worship God. Amos explained that God did not want the Jews to hurt any of their neighbors, such as the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Arameans. Naturally, these neighbors were themselves expected to treat the Jews and each other equally well.”

Noam Chomsky, in my own view our most compelling living prophet, explains the notion of a prophet: “The word ‘prophet’ is a very bad translation of an obscure Hebrew word, navi. Nobody knows what it means. But today they’d be called dissident intellectuals. They were giving geopolitical analysis, arguing that the acts of the rulers were going to destroy society. And they condemned the acts of evil kings. They called for justice and mercy to orphans and widows and so on.”

Chomsky grew up in Philadelphia in the 1930s and 40s in a family committed to the revival of Hebrew language and culture. He supported a bi-nationalist and non-statist Jewish homeland in what was then British-ruled Palestine. As the world’s most prominent linguist and cognitive scientist, he has since the 1960s opposed American imperialism, American support for Israel as a “stationary aircraft carrier” in the Middle East, and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory—the West Bank and Gaza. He continues, at age 86, to tirelessly criticize elites who exercise illegitimate authority and serve only the powerful.

In the 1950s, the advent of the state of Israel was understandably seen by most American Jews as a miracle for a persecuted people, as a kind of redemption in relation to the Holocaust, and as an emergent model of a socialist society. But as the historical record makes clear, the Zionist movement and the establishment of a Jewish state in 1948 were consistent with the sort of European settler-colonialist movements that established societies in North America, Australia, and South Africa while largely marginalizing, removing, or eliminating the indigenous populations.

Jewish teachings prior to the advent of Zionism at the end of the 19th century in no way advocated the literal return of Jews to the land of their biblical origins, no less the establishment of a Jewish state, no less a state that has a “right to exist.” But in the Europeanized and Americanized world of the 20th and 21st centuries, a state is what we’ve got, and its evolution is consistent with the 500-year-old model of European settler-colonialist states: immigration, expansionism, economic development and technological progress, exploitation of indigenous peoples and resources, violent dispossession, and nationalist/religious ideologies glorifying all these things. The Jewish Israeli scholars Ilan Pappé and Shlomo Sand have brilliantly dissected the origins and evolution of Zionist ideology in recent books: The Idea of Israel : A History of Power and Knowledge, The Invention of the Jewish People, and The Invention of the Land of Israel.

Upon this colonial foundation add increasingly large disparities in wealth (including among Israeli Jews) and gross abuses of power, with class conflict sublimated by directing the attention of the population at a despised minority; in Israel that of course being the Palestinians, both those who are Israeli citizens and those who live under occupation. Given its evolution as consistent with European and American models, Israel has ironically become a sort of generically Christian nation, in the worst sense of the phrase. It’s not by accident that its most ardent supporters are among the Christian Right in this country, while more liberal Protestants are under enormous pressure to just keep their mouths shut, should they have any inclination to open them. Meanwhile, both here and in Israel, Jewish nationalism has been combined with religious fanaticism and extremism in volatile and dangerous ways, as documented by a much younger prophet named Max Blumenthal in his book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

However, it should be stressed that Israel’s development as a broadly militaristic and weapons-based economy and society is consistent with the geopolitical strategies of major American political parties and the secular elites whom they represent, as well as the liberal Israeli political party known as “Labor.” What has transpired in occupied Palestine can only be understood in these wealth/power frameworks: from neoliberal globalization and American wars for the control of Middle Eastern energy resources, to the local/state context which has generated the drama around the hiring and firing of Professor Steven Salaita; the latter events have been the most immediate provocation for the formation of a local JVP chapter.

Along with Palestinian resistance we have seen a revival of the prophetic tradition in some corners of Jewish political culture, including locally among a conscientious group of students, teachers, and workers. The basic elements of the prophetic tradition are quite simple: an inquiring mind, a consistent conscience, an open heart, and a rational voice.

David Green (davidgreen50@gmail.com) lives in Champaign. He is affiliated with the local antiwar movement AWARE, and the national organizations Jewish Voice for Peace and End the Occupation. He contributes regularly to News from Neptune on UPTV.

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Securus Technologies: How a Carceral Conglomerate Makes Millions from Mass Incarceration

Miguel Saucedo and his family have paid thousands of dollars to Securus to talk to his brother who is incarcerated.

Miguel Saucedo and his family have paid thousands of dollars to Securus to talk to his brother who is incarcerated.

Miguel Saucedo grew up in the Latino neighborhood of Little Village in Chicago. Now almost 30, Miguel recalls as an eight year old taking a five-hour drive to visit his older brother who was incarcerated downstate at Menard Correctional Center. His family would load into a rented van for a day-long trip through long stretches of cornfields and arrive at a high security fortress in the town of Chester, which bills itself as the “Home of Popeye the Sailor Man.” Miguel recalls those journeys as a traumatic experience, at times being pulled over by local police and harassed along the way.

Over the years, the expense and inconvenience of the visits has often meant they have relied on the phone to communicate with his brother. Miguel guesses his family has spent an average of about $100 a month on prison phone charges over the two decades his brother has been locked up. Miguel did a quick calculation of the total for these bills, “Can we just round it out and say it’s twenty thousand dollars?” Currently this money goes to Securus Technologies, which has an exclusive phone contract with the Illinois Department of Corrections. Miguel identified Securus as “just another key player in this system of the prison industrial complex.”

Based outside of Dallas, Texas, Securus is a leading force in a billion dollar prison phone industry. The company has amassed a fortune by charging families like the Saucedos about four dollars for a 15-minute phone call. But it doesn’t stop there. Securus has become a new corporate species: a carceral conglomerate. Quickly swallowing up smaller companies and buying out its competitors, Securus owns an entire supply chain of existing and emerging prison technologies. They stand at the cutting edge of video visitation, electronic monitoring, and prison surveillance systems, constantly finding new products and markets across the landscape of mass incarceration. In turn, the company’s profitability has made it a target for high finance corporations specializing in takeovers.

The Roots of a Carceral Conglomerate

Securus bgSecurus’s origins go back to the mid-1980s when President Ronald Reagan was launching the “War on Drugs.” In 1986, a Colorado-based company called “Tele-Matic” was formed. In 1995, the company changed its name to T-Netix, rapidly winning contracts for many large prisons. In 1999, they bought out their main competitor, making T-Netix the biggest “inmate calling services” provider at the time.

H.I.G. Capital, a global investment firm headquartered in Miami, Florida, purchased T-Netix in 2004 for $70 million. That year H.I.G also bought Evercom, T-Netix’s main competitor. H.I.G. merged the two and formed today’s Securus. The dual acquisition was a “solid investment” according to H.I.G.’s Lewis Schoenwetter, and would be “an engine of growth for the future.”

Securus’s stock has proven virtually recession proof. In 2011, the investment firm Castle Harlan added Securus to its portfolio for an estimated $440 million. In 2013, Securus was bought by another big investment company, Abry Partners, who paid a reported $640 million for the company. According to Securus President Richard A. Smith, the company saw record revenue highs in 2013.

Securus Monopoly in Illinois

Securus’s operations in the state of Illinois provide an excellent example of how the company uses its monopoly to leverage profitable phone contracts. Phone contracts are won by companies offering   large “site commissions” or “kickbacks” to cash-strapped state and county governments. A percentage of income collected from phone calls goes back to the authorities for the exclusive right to extract money from a captive population.

The kickback has been crucial to Securus gaining its foothold in Illinois. Using the millions of dollars in their coffers, Securus significantly outbid the previous provider to win the contract with the IDOC by offering one of the highest kickbacks in the country. About three out of four dollars paid for a phone call by Miguel Saucedo’s family actually go back to the state of Illinois. In 2012, nearly $12 million in kickbacks was awarded to the IDOC thanks to the high commission rate offered by Securus.

However, Securus’s carceral presence in Illinois is not limited to prisons. They have contracts with nearly 80 percent of county jails as well. This includes the lucrative contract with Chicago’s Cook County, one of the nation’s largest jails.

Campaign for Prison Phone Justice

A national campaign has come together to urge the Federal Communications Commission to regulate carceral phone rates. In February of 2014, the campaign scored its first major victory, when the FCC agreed to put a cap on interstate calls at $.25 a minute for collect calls, and $.21 a minute for debit and pre-paid calls.

Recently, UC-IMC’s own Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice joined in the campaign. The FCC is currently considering lowering intrastate calls, a decision that could impact the cost of some 85% of all phone calls made from inside prisons and jails.

Securus CEO Richard Smith, whose annual salary package comes to over $1 million, responded to this process by claiming that regulation of rates could present a security issue that could lead to “the deaths of inmates, witnesses, friends/family members of victims, and of officers that protect us.”

Secure-Us

While Securus is feeling the heat in their phone business they are moving into new sectors to secure their profits. Their most lucrative investment appears to be video visiting, a new technological frontier where the company already has a foothold. With access to a computer and high speed internet, video visits can be conducted from home.

According to a report compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative, Securus not only stands at the cutting edge of this market, but is also implementing the most draconian contractual terms. Key to this has been their insistence that county jails which implement video visiting must eliminate options for face-to-face visits. The report notes that Securus is the only firm pushing such a policy. Plus, Securus has by far the highest rates for video visiting, reaching as high as $1.50 a minute in some instances.

Electronic Monitoring

Securus has also gained a foothold in another carceral technology: electronic monitoring. In the last year and a half, Securus has acquired two firms which specialize in providing the GPS-linked ankle bracelets used for monitoring. In 2013 they bought up Satellite Tracking of People (STOP), which bills itself as the largest monitoring provider in the U.S. Then in 2014, they acquired General Security Services Corporation (GSSC) which offers monitors along with a range of other carceral technology.

At present the electronic monitoring sector pulls down an estimated annual revenue of $300 million. However, with increasing pressure to cut back on corrections costs, the use of ankle bracelets may escalate. This can provide a lucrative revenue stream, especially since in most instances the people wearing the bracelets have to pay a daily user fee ranging from $5 to $40.

While we often hear about the activities of private prison providers like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, corporate interests are immersed in every aspect of criminal justice. Until carceral conglomerates like Securus are reigned in, poor families will continue to pay not only with the absence of their loved ones but to sustain the bottom lines for the benefit of investors and CEOs like Richard Smith.

Authors Brian Dolinar and James Kilgore are a part of the Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, a project of the Independent Media Center. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in Truthout (2/13/15).

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Get Your WEFT On!

by Lori Serb

WEFT has been a terrestrial radio station since 1981. WEFT began webcasting in 2007. WEFT contributes to artist royalties through both of these avenues. A snapshot of recent programming includes a live set by electric blues guitarist Cash McCall, a wedding officiated in the studio on air, and the world premiere of a previously unknown and unheard recording of a 1964 speech given in London by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These in addition to locally produced weekly public affairs programs like “Disability Beat,” “The Prairie Monk” and “Smile Politely Radio” distinguish WEFT from anything else on the radio dial.

The WEFT program grid is voted on by a group of elected members that make up the Programming Committee. Our foundation building blocks of Jazz, Blues and World music each make up at least 10 hours of programming a week; but each program is created by an individual producer called an airshifter, who has wisdom, experience and passion that influence their choices of material from a wide variety of sources to make each program very distinct from another in the same genre. WEFT’s diverse programming schedule would not be possible if the station was part of a media conglomerate that dictates programming from the top down.

I accepted the Station Manager position on July 1, 2014, after being an active volunteer for 17 years. I was originally drawn to WEFT’s unique soundscape and driven by a desire to contribute to the public affairs and music programming offered. In the process, I have expanded my knowledge of the local community and the global community I am part of.

WEFT has a modest operating budget of $110,753. Finding new sources of funding for our basic operating expenses is a top priority as WEFT moves forward into a new era without 60% of our budget coming from one grant. WEFT is one of a growing number of Community Radio stations no longer receiving money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, due to its modified requirements that stations raise a non-federal income level of $300,000 to be eligible for $71,000 from the CPB. And while we have received a grant from the Illinois Arts Council last year, applicants this year were recently informed that there will be less money available for Fiscal Year 2016 awards.

In October WEFT began to have transmitter trouble. On October 26, our transmitter suddenly failed and WEFT was off the air. The station’s transmitter, replaced in 2008, was assessed by volunteers, and the decision was made to purchase two essential circuit boards, costing $2000, and WEFT was back on the air the evening of Halloween.

We again went off the air in November, due to different equipment failing in the broadcasting chain to the transmitter. We were able get our signal back on the air, but more problems in the broadcasting chain and at the transmitter were identified, including a need to improve the cooling system. Our Power To The Tower campaign began in December and so far has raised $13,000.

To illustrate that WEFT community radio is truly powered by the people, listeners who contribute to the Power To The Tower campaign are being recognized by name on our website. This month we were able to use a large portion of that money raised to purchase one of the four power supply units that need to be replaced. When the weather warms up we will need to repair the transmitter de-icer; the damage area could be anywhere up to 325 feet up the antenna. Back on the ground, the 10kW Transmitter, which requires large amounts of electrical power, generates a lot of heat, which is taxing the room’s current cooling system.

WEFT will kick off our Spring Pledge Drive on March 29. While we had many discussions, we ultimately decided to keep the annual membership at $40. To meet our budget without the CPB grant, WEFT needs 733 financial contributions from listeners at our Frequency Level of $90.10. We need to double our Community Partner pool of local businesses that underwrite programming. We are exploring other financial possibilities in The Center for Car Donations program, grants and fundraising events.

WEFT will be a venue participating in the 13th Annual Boneyard Arts Festival, with scheduled tours of the station on Friday April 10 and Saturday April 11. WEFT will be in the second week of our Spring Pledge Drive at that time, and I see the tours as an opportunity to meet many of our supporters in person, and for them to share their fondest WEFT memories. More details will be available soon.

WEFT’s 24/7 artistic contributions are enjoyed by the ears, but during the 13th Annual Boneyard Arts Festival weekend, visitors to WEFT can indulge in the visual artistry of WEFT. We will have a lot of memorabilia on display around the station from our 34 years of broadcasting. These include original pieces by local artist and longtime airshifter Edli B’n Hadd, host of “Incoming Wounded,” presenting experimental soundscapes to the airwaves every Sunday from 12 a.m. until 5 a.m. If you have been a financial supporter of WEFT over the years, you probably own at least one of his memorable WEFT t-shirts.

Our other featured artist is WEFT Courier host Doug Olive. Every third Saturday of the month, from 1-2 p.m., Doug takes a look at political theory and its sociology during  “Speaking of Democracy.” As a visual artist, Doug is inspired by landscapes and works with acrylic and pastels, and will also be displaying some of his photography at the station.

Many art pieces, including some retro WEFT t-shirts, will be available for purchase, with a portion of all proceeds going directly to WEFT’s basic operating expenses.

While WEFT is currently focused on the immediate future and reflecting on how far we have come, I would very much like WEFT to move forward in the direction of making our quality programming accessible anytime through podcasts. I would like to renovate our back studio to allow for more on-site radio production and training capabilities for the community; and to develop a local newsroom to better serve our local listening community. I hope our listeners will join me in rolling up our sleeves and giving time, money and skills to make these dreams a reality.

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Everybody is Nude – in Front of the NSA

“It’s all fucked up!” -, the webcam light of Brandon’s computer burns green, signaling that he is being filmed. But Brandon was neither video-chatting with anybody nor was he recording himself – he was actually just in the process of doing his bathroom business. “Fuck it, who needs to watch my cock peeing?” Brandon’s Kapersky anti-virus software pops up and signals that a virus from his brand-new $100-Seagate hard drive is forcing the webcam to record. Brandon is faced with an issue that the majority of people on this planet using a computer is or will be. Since the NSA has found out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and other top manufacturers, the agency literally has the means to spy on anybody. Brandon, in his case, was lucky that his webcam light was burning, the virus usually works, films and reports in silence without being realized.

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Microsoft Wired LifeCam VX-3000

It is 2015 – and yet it feels like Nineteen Eighty-Four – within the digital era, technology is omnipresent, surrounding all of us. Carrie Snow joked “Technology… is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.” What if it stabs you in the back, but you just start feeling it when it shoots outta’ your belly? Yet, most of us are not feeling we are being stabbed. 15 billion devices connect and report to the internet and if we are looking mysterious for the NSA artificial intelligence algorithms, they place us on a list of potential terrorists. This may hit anybody. Snowden explained: “Even if we’re not doing anything wrong, we are being watched and recorded.”

Tennessee, September ’11 – the ACLU sends a letter “Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools” to several public schools, Mike Browning of the Tennessee Fusion Center assesses a potential terrorist threat and puts the communication on the map of “terrorism events and other suspicious activity” for the simple reason: The ACLU cautions schools about religious freedom. As a result of failure in preventing the terror attacks of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security invested $1.4 billion to build a vast network of Fusion Centers around the country, which were originally constructed to prevent terrorist attacks but whose responsibility has gradually morphed to combating criminals and eventually, to fighting any kind of opponents to our government that has been the ACLU 3 years ago but could be any of us tomorrow!

Every telephone call we take, every website we search, every Facebook message we send is recorded by the National Security Agency which allegedly, uses the information to fight terrorism. But what if this information gets into the wrong hands? What if suddenly, our boss watches the Skype video conversation, where in a moment of sexual enthusiasm, we stripped for our boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife? – Or it’d just be NSA Director Rogers’ breakfast show?

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“Watch Out: NSA Might Be Peeking In Your Computer“ Caricature about NSA Surveillance of Social Promo

“Partnership for Protection” – InfraGard, a secretive organization with more than 23,0000 members of private industry is silently collaborating with FBI and DHS and supports the NSA in its ambitions to collect any data on Earth and make it accessible to our government. In exchange for secret warnings of terrorist threats, InfraGard members secretly gather information and have allowance to shoot to kill in the event of martial law –
“If we are forced to kill someone to protect our infrastructure, there are no repercussions – this gives me goose bumps. It chills me to the bone.” one business owner of InfraGard tells us.
– “In case something happens, everybody is ready,” says Norm Arendt, the head of the Wisconsin chapter of InfraGard.

Something – but not a murder – happened on October 1, ’13: Illija Trojanow was denied entry to the United States on his mission to speak at the Goethe Institute about “Surveillance and the Naked New World”. He responded that“it is more than ironic if an author who raises his voice against the dangers of surveillance and the secret state, will be denied entry into the ‘land of the brave and the free.” The co-author of his book “Attack on freedom” Juli Zeh declared that “This is a farce. Pure paranoia. People who stand up for civil rights are treated as enemies of the state.”

Enemies of the state are also Phil Zimmermann and Ladar Levison among many others whose businesses providing encrypted e-mail services had to close after heavy US governmental pressure. “If privacy becomes unlawful, then only outlaws maintain privacy.” – found Silent circle founder Phil Zimmermann. Lavabit’s owner Ladar Levison declared that he had preferred to shut down his 10-year-old company, rather than to violate the rights of his e-mail 400,000 users. He recommended against trusting private data to any company with physical ties to the US.

What if we just led an innocent life without any record of wrongdoing – but – because of the people that we talk to, the websites that we visit, the NSA artificial intelligence spying tools randomly assess us to be a terrorist. Suddenly, our neighbor begins to throw sneaking looks on us, a tinted-window car parks in front of our house – we feel the spying all around! Welcome to the United States Police State!

“Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?” former NSA Director Keith Alexander’s often quoted question reveals what is still to come. Spying on everything, everywhere, always. Edward Snowden commented: “If they want to get you in time, they will.” While a secret court approval is currently still required to collect metadata on American citizens, PRISM permits collecting data of any foreigner without limits. One of the foreigners is – as was disclosed when ‘Truth came to the Merkel effect’ – German Chancellor Angela Merkel whose cellphone had to be recorded to defend the US from terrorists. She went a little angry and commented “You don’t spy on friends!” Snowden was left pinned down in the dirt – no asylum – no nothing from Germany. On the contrary, the spying on Germany and foreign citizens continues and gets closer to “collecting all the signals all the time”.

Senator R. Paul condemns spying as “an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.” The Senate, however, failed to advance legislation on bipartisan surveillance reform last November. – It is being spied itself by the CIA as was revealed last July. And most recently, it turned out that the responsible CIA employees will not face disciplinary charges since according to an agency accountability board, they “acted reasonable in investigating a potential security breach.”

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NSA note on toilet surveillance cameras in Black Rock Desert, Nevada

Snowden pointed out: “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.” In contrast, Brandon sees the naked new world as the new Nude American Way of Life “If the NSA can see us naked, why not leave clothes off right way?” – Wouldn’t that be a happy ending of the fairytale?

Johnny Orwell

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Winning and Losing: The Salaita Affair & A Proposed UIUC/Carle Medical School

UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise has soiled herself, and the university’s reputation, by how she and her administration have handled the hiring and summary dismissal of Prof. Steven Salaita.

Wise on Salaita 07 22 14

Up until at least the evening of July 22, 2014 Chancellor Wise supported hiring Salaita. During or immediately after the July 24 Board of Trustees (BOT) executive session, she reversed her position.

Contrasted to the months-long faculty and staff deliberations resulting in Salaita’s hire, it took Wise, in collusion with others, a scant 48 hours to reverse her position between July 22-24, 2014. Now Wise, the administration, and the Board of Trustees (BOT) all want the controversy they manufactured to just go away.

It is not going to go away.

Academic Senate Dissected

Consider the February 9, 2015 UIUC Academic Senate meeting. The Senate, consisting of some 200 faculty and 50 students, passed resolutions regarding Salaita and Wise’s proposed UIUC/Carle medical school. Most Senate confabs are mostly boring. But this one was extremely revealing, laying bare the political machinations. The Senate showed itself to be as polarized as campus: between administration and faculty, and among faculty.

Wise’s medical school proposal constitutes the flipside of the Salaita affair. For the administration, talking about a medical school conveniently changes the conversation. It also further divides the campus between haves and have-nots. The de facto buying off of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) departments with the promise of medical school-related goodies continues the already existing practice of playing off liberal arts departments south of Green against science and engineering north of Green. Wise talks inclusivity – “we are one big touchy-feely campus” — but she walks the walk of exclusivity – “I and my friends against you and yours.”

Wise 1, UI System-Wide Medical School & Hospital 0

The Senate’s discussion of Wise’s proposal boiled down to “we want a medical school, because we want a medical school.” A parade of speakers delivered short presentations short on substance. Wise’s proposal mentions UI Chicago’s (UIC) competing plan only to immediately dismiss it. Critics criticize consultants Tripp Umbach, hired by UIUC, for their tendentious business plan, “making up imaginary numbers,” and proposing a “hopelessly unrealistic” timeline. It makes you want to ask for your money back.

Absent was substantive consideration of the UIC-run UI medical school and hospital in Chicago both by Wise and the Senate. Absent entirely was UIC’s alternative proposal, “Better Together,” which argues that it would be a “win-win” for both campuses. To Wise’s contention that “retrofitting” a biomedical engineering medical curriculum on an already existing medical school will not work, UIC responds that a new Urbana medical school would make for costly and inefficient “redundancies.” UIC proposes to harness UIUC’s engineering, genomic, and computational strengths in a cooperative, system-wide Illinois Translational Bioengineering Institute.

UIC Better Together

A key issue concerns inclusivity versus exclusivity. This is related to Urbana’s dead-set dismissiveness of all things Chicago – because it is Chicago. True: since the 1972 establishment of the UIC medical school, UIC-UIUC relations have consisted of equal parts competition, backbiting, rivalry, behind-the-scenes maneuvering, distrust, and animosity. Discussions held between the spring of 2012 and January, 2014 were broken off unilaterally by UIUC, without informing UIC. Yet, the UIC COM-CU (College of Medicine at Champaign-Urbana) has done an excellent job for more than 40 years – everyone agrees its crown jewel is the outstanding Medical Scholars program – all the while starved of resources.

True: UIUC’s strengths in engineering, biotechnology, and computational science merit more prominence, either UIUC going it alone, or in concert with UIC. True: the UIC hospital has been a “money pit,” a “black hole.” It is also the largest medical school in the country. It serves the largest proportion anywhere of low income folks, largely through Medicaid. Its financial woes are partly due to its patient mix, partly to mismanagement. Can it be turned around and make more money? Unquestionably. There are success stories worthy of emulation, Truman Medical Center in Kansas City for one. Again, it is about inclusivity versus exclusivity. As the flagship state university, do we not want to provide medical care for everyone? Or do we want for-profit-driven Carle piggybacking on Wise’s go-it-alone, developer-friendly, neoliberal plan? It is easy to see that the no-brainer solution is UIC’s “Better Together” cost-efficient, resources-pooling alternative. And even easier to see that, historically and structurally, such an outcome is virtually impossible – especially with our eyes-on-the-money “leaders” today.

The outcome of the Senate discussion, despite tepid opposition, was a foregone conclusion. When the resolution passed easily, grinning ear to ear was Wise.

Salaita & Faculty Governance 1, Wise 0

The next agenda item urged the Senate to implement the campus Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure’s (CAFT) recommendations. If implemented, these would likely result in Salaita’s reinstatement. Constituting a “test” of the Senate’s commitment to shared faculty governance, resolution co-author Prof. Bruce Levine challenged the Senate “to put our money where our mouth is.”

Here is the background. December 19, 2014: CAFT issued a 140-page report that concluded that “Salaita’s academic freedom had been infringed upon,” and that “there had been serious violations of shared governance.” It recommended “that statements… asserting civility as a standard of conduct be withdrawn,” and that his “candidacy be remanded to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) for reconsideration by a body of qualified academic experts.” January 4, 2015: Professor Michael Leroy attacked the CAFT report in the local News-Gazette. January 6: five self-anointed, past and current Senate Executive Committee (SEC) members, dubbed the “gang of five,” issued a so-called “response” also attacking CAFT, and de facto supporting the administration. Consisting of a tissue of tendentious arguments, it urged the primary body of faculty governance to give up on faculty governance. Why? Because the campus was “hopelessly polarized,” and a “LAS committee would arrive at a foregone conclusion,” presumably that of reinstating Salaita. Although the gang of five statement lacked any parliamentary standing, both the pro-administration News-Gazette and Wise refer to it as if it was a report – because it is anti-Salaita.

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CAFT Chair David O’Brien addresses Academic Senate, February 9, 2015

Key is that while the Senate mouths allegiance to faculty governance, the SEC, and some Senators, in practice wage a behind-closed-doors guerilla war against it. How can this be? Because the SEC is made up of de facto foremen, the administration’s “trusties.” Theoretically upholders of faculty governance, the SEC and its fellow-traveling Senators have ceded that mantle in practice to Senators often affiliated with the Campus Faculty Association.

All these differences boiled to the surface February 9. Against top-down Senate, and especially SEC, rule by arcane parliamentary maneuvers meant to deflect, stall, and run out the meeting clock, grassroots faculty Senators pushed back from the bottom up. SEC member Prof. Kim Graber argued, for example, that the Senate should not consider the issue, since the matter was in court and, therefore, “moot.” Senator and CAFT member Prof. Mark Steinberg dismissed the idea that an LAS faculty committee is incapable, “as has been implied here,” of arriving at a professional, dispassionate decision with “due care, and diligence, and honesty, and integrity,” and stated the “need to respect foundational principles” of shared governance. To dilatory parliamentary moves could be heard cries of “undemocratic!” Other Senators were clearly upset by references made to letters and documents that only some had seen: Law and Center for Advanced Study Prof. Matt Finkin’s January 8 smackdown of Leroy’s piece; Finkin’s January 23 response to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Committee A’s draft report on the Salaita case; UIUC legal counsel Scott Rice’s response to the AAUP; and Finkin’s February 5 response to Rice’s tendentious arguments.

Beating Up on Faculty Governance

As time literally ran out, the resolution to implement the CAFT recommendations was passed, and the Senate passed the test of faculty governance. But the SEC and its Senate supporters flunked. Wise looked stricken. But she exacted her revenge, in her February 26 massmail, by refusing to follow both the non-binding CAFT report and the Senate resolution. Prof. Mary Mallory said, “shared governance has taken a beating,” and so it has. But Wise had already demonstrated that it is a sham when she panicked July 22-24, 2014 in her 48-hour, rush-to-Salaita-judgment, cutting faculty out of the governance loop.

March 7, 2015

me 2

David Prochaska formerly taught colonialism and visual culture in the UI History Department

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The Common Man Party’s Uncommon Victory

India Watcher earned a Ph.D. at UIUC India Watcher

 

 

 

In a major upset, the two-year old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, Common Man’s Party) won the elections to Delhi’s state legislature on February 10, 2015, winning 67 seats out of 70.

Vani Kejriwal Delhi Dialogue
AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal held a series of dialogues with Delhi constituents during the run-up to the February, 2015 elections.

For weeks before, the national media obsessed over whether the rightwing Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party), of Prime Minister Narendra Modi would continue its run of three straight state election wins after winning the 2014 national election that brought Modi to power. Or, could the AAP leader, Arvind Kejriwal, snatch political victory from the mighty BJP electoral machine that was clearly outspending its opponents in an electoral blitzkrieg? Modi himself addressed several rallies where he never failed to disparage Kejriwal. The results took everybody, even the most ardent AAP supporters, by surprise. Both AAP and BJP had been predicting a majority for their party, but nobody imagined that it would be a vote tsunami for the political underdog.

To understand the reasons for AAP’s victory, and its significance, it is necessary to look at how the AAP was formed. The AAP was set up by activists who participated in the India Against Corruption (IAC) campaign started by Anna Hazare, a social activist from the western state of Maharashtra. The IAC campaign began in 2011 in the backdrop of the Arab Spring, and numerous high-profile scandals in the ruling Congress government. The campaign had a clear goal: pass a Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill) in Parliament to set up an independent and empowered Jan Lokpal (Citizen’s Ombudsman) at the national level to investigate corruption in the government. The fight between civil society and the government continued for two years and a watered-down version of the bill was finally passed in 2013.

Already by mid-2012, the anti-corruption movement had started to fizzle out. In November 2012, Kejriwal and a few others formally split from the movement and formed the Aam Aadmi Party, while Anna Hazare continued down the road of protests and social activism. The founders of the AAP said they wanted to change the way politics was done in the country, using the Gandhian principle of swaraj, self-rule, to encourage “self-governance, community building and decentralization.”

In its first race, AAP came in second in December 2013 in Delhi winning 28 out of 70 seats . The BJP was the single largest party, but did not win a majority and declined to form a minority government. After seeking a referendum from the people of Delhi, the AAP formed a minority government with “not-unconditional” support from the Congress. But Kejriwal resigned after just 49 days when both the BJP and Congress blocked a Delhi ombudsman bill citing procedural lapses.

Vani Aap broom

The AAP’s initials are Hindi for the polite form of “you,” so combined with the simple broom, the logo here may be read as “your party sweeps away corruption”

The AAP ran in the May 2014 national elections, but fared extremely poorly. Of the 434 candidates fielded across India, only four won in the Punjab while all seven parliamentary seats in Delhi were lost. AAP had to face the reality of a disappointed electorate that was angry at not having been consulted before the resignation. The voters felt let down by a party that had been championing participatory democracy.

Though the Indian polity was set up as a democracy, in practical everyday terms, it largely functioned as a feudal system. Politicians and bureaucrats conducted themselves like feudal lords who doled out or withheld the largesse that was really the taxpayer’s money.

The centrist Congress party has occasionally eschewed its sense of entitlement and supported pro-people’s policies: Right to Information, Right to Work, Recognition of Forest Rights, Right to Education, Right to Food, and Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement. But problems in implementation, plus continued corruption, pushed the tide against Congress.

After ten years in the opposition, the Modi-led BJP won a majority in the 2014 national elections. Modi had risen up the ranks of the Hindu fundamentalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteer Organization). But in Delhi last month, the BJP was humiliated with a miserable three seats, and the Congress failed to win any.

In retrospect, the AAP did a lot of things right. Kejriwal apologized profusely to the people of Delhi for his resignation, which voters appreciated since honesty and humility were unknown among Indian politicians. Forty thousand volunteers worked the grassroots, going door-to-door, and organizing public meetings with Kejriwal. Kejriwal himself focused on basic issues — water, electricity and women’s safety — that resonated with the people. By stalling on the election date, the BJP inadvertently gave AAP time to get its act together.

Vani waving brooms
Waving brooms, AAP supporters celebrate victory in Delhi elections, February, 2015

As a senior BJP member blogged, “the failure of the BJP consists of not being able to split the non-BJP votes. ” Between December 2013 and February 2015, the BJP lost just one percent of its one-third vote share, but the opposition vote united behind the AAP, which went from 30 percent to over 54 percent .

The BJP’s election campaign was largely negative. Modi and other BJP leaders targeted Kejriwal, mocking him repeatedly as a “deserter” and “left-wing radical.” Meanwhile, the still-new national BJP government was not exactly covering itself in honor. Day after day, the press reported a new, reactionary plan or statement by the Hindu right-wing radicals who claimed to turn India into a Hindu country. They issued threats against conversions from Hinduism to Islam or to Christianity . They made claims about Muslim men deliberately making Hindu women fall in love with them for the ulterior motive of converting them to Islam (termed “love jihad”). They exhorted Hindu women to have four children apiece. They attacked movies such as Aamir Khan’s PK that showed religious leaders with mass followings as conmen. In Delhi, which was under central rule before the elections, the situation escalated beyond religious threats with a Hindu-Muslim communal riot, and five attacks on Christian churches.

Meanwhile, Modi remained silent about the growing religious intolerance . Instead, the central government systematically packed governmental and semi-autonomous bodies with right wing sympathizers. Modi and his right-hand man, Amit Shah, tightly controlled electoral strategy and machinery . Voices of dissent were gradually being suppressed, especially those of some writers and artists . The disconnect with the common citizen was completed when national news showed Modi wearing a million-rupee (about USD 16,000) suit embroidered with his name in gold when meeting President Obama for tea during his January, 2015 visit.

Modi in suit with Obama
Prime Minister Modi wore a million-rupee suit to tea with President Obama with his name embroidered in gold all over it

Arguably, Indians are not against change, but the vast majority is wary of precipitous, violent change — either reactionary or revolutionary. They prefer a peaceful route to change, respecting the Constitution and established institutions (note to the revolutionary), while also respecting the beliefs and aspirations of all groups and interests (note to the reactionary). Experience with self-styled “feudal” lords and their misuse of power means any display of high-handedness is distrusted. Hence, the acute contrast between Modi, who spoke of all he alone would do for them, and Kejriwal, who talked about involving the citizenry in running Delhi.

During the India Against Corruption movement, the pro-people perspectives of social activists resulted in citizens beginning to feel it was their right to actually hold their representatives accountable for their actions, behavior, and financial excesses. Even so, the idea of questioning the system was still new. Kejriwal’s confrontational style first as candidate, then as short-lived Delhi chief minister, both elated and alarmed the public. He even questioned the corruption of several high-profile politicians and businessmen, including the son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. In his second attempt, Kejriwal toned down the rhetoric and focused more on specific initiatives. He was able to make the emotional connect and the people began to engage in more give-and-take with him.

Only after the crushing Delhi defeat did Modi first speak out against religious intolerance, saying that he stood by the Constitution . Hopefully, he understands the essentially middle-of- the-road nature of Indian society and culture. Yes, a hardcore 30 percent will continue to support the BJP regardless. But perhaps 70 percent of the populace prefers a different kind of politics. A politics that focuses on harmony among communities. A government that focuses on doing things in the people’s interest, not just the party’s interest. A respect for democratic rights – India is, after all, the world’s largest democracy — including accommodating difference and dissent. The nation’s feudal core continues to slowly but definitely change to a more democratic one.

The success of any party also depends on how democratic it is. This has been the bane of almost all Indian parties. Congress paid the price for excessive slavishness to one family (the Gandhis). The BJP paid the price of top duo’s high-handed, arbitrary conduct in the run-up to the Delhi elections. And the intermittent rumblings within the AAP against one-person rule must be resolved democratically if it is to maintain diverse, creative strategies.

 

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Courtwatch Report: Sitting in Jail vs. Bailing out

By Courtwatchers

In court we support, observe and learn.
In the community, we share collected wisdom.

Courtwatch is a group of volunteers who sit in on cases at the Champaign County Courthouse to learn how “justice” really works. Regardless of guilt or innocence, we attend cases at the request of individuals.

Courtwatch went to court with Alvaro as he “sat in jail” at the Satellite for four and half months awaiting the disposition of his drug case. He was a college drop-out whose parents lived in Mattoon; they had immediately tried to help him by hiring a lawyer for $7,500, that they had heard of in Champaign. The lawyer was very optimistic about getting him off “before they paid him,” according to Alvaro, but by the time his case was heading to resolution, it looked very bad to the lawyer and “the best he could do was a four-year plea deal with time served.”

In an interview with Courtwatch, Alvaro said, “I made the wrong choice. I was smoking pot at the house of the guy I bought it from and we were arrested there at the same time. We each had access to $7,500 from the outside, but he decided to spend his on bail – bond was $75,000 for each of us (second offenses). So Steve took the public defender, which cost him nothing. While he was out free, he worked a job to make some money, then selected and paid a lawyer right before his case was coming to trial. I think he is going to be much better off than me. I think I made the wrong choice. “ Indeed he did. Shortly after Alvaro had left for prison, Steve got probation.

Steve and Alvaro had an unusual choice to make because they each had the same amount of money for just one of the two desirables – a paid lawyer and being out on bail. There are a few people considered to be at risk of flight or harm to the community with bonds set so high as to be unpayable ($500,000 to multiple millions). There are those who have the means to post bail and also hire a lawyer, but the majority of people “sitting in jail” have no choice at all. They have the public defender and they cannot make bail even if it is as little as $200.

It is common knowledge that poor people are more likely to be incarcerated than the non-poor; the public is becoming more aware of how being incarcerated makes the individual and his or her family much poorer. Yet it wasn’t until the Vera Report on Jails came out in February 2015 that we now understand the worst consequence of sitting in jail awaiting a “day in court”: those in pre-trial detention are 4 times more likely to receive a sentence of imprisonment and 3 times more likely to get a longer sentence than those (with comparable crimes) released before trial.

From the Vera Institute of Justice

From the Vera Institute of Justice

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, “This is in part because most defendants never actually go to trial, but instead make a deal with the prosecutor that typically involves pleading guilty in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.” People who exercise their constitutional right to a trial, often because they know that they are not guilty, or not guilty of all the charges, pay a huge price if they do not win the trial. The sentence will be a great deal bigger (Vera Report says 3 times as high) than the time they would have received for pleading guilty.

People who are already incarcerated are also typically pressured to take a deal by their own defense lawyer and the States’ Attorney, who decides the terms of the deal. “Defendants already in jail receive and accept less favorable plea agreements and do not have the leverage to press for better ones,” notes the Vera report. Even if a defendant resists those pressures and makes it to trial, waiting in jail can hurt his chances. The Vera report found that jurors are more likely to think defendants are guilty if they arrive in court wearing a jail uniform.”

Courtwatch has observed many trials of people who were in custody in Champaign County. They generally wear a suit of clothes that is brought to them by family, but arrive in shackles which are supposed to be taken off before the jury appears. On February 25, there was a hearing before Judge Clem for a re-trial of Corey Lee, and one of the bases was that one juror had come in too soon and observed Mr. Lee in shackles before they were removed. Yet nothing was done, such as removal of that juror and replacement with an alternate.

Steve was lucky in one more way. Not only could he lay hands on $7, 500, but that was also a relatively low bail. Today, the average bail for a serious offense is $55,400―some $4,000 more than the median yearly income, according to Vera. The problem is that most people offered bail cannot afford to pay for it, so they must “sit in jail,” with nothing to do as jails offer much less program or structured time than prisons do. Yet 62% of all people in US jails are not serving a sentence. They are unconvicted, “innocent until proven guilty,” sitting, waiting, without the means to purchase their freedom or their day in court.

For the full Vera report, “Incarceration’s Front Door: the Misuse of Jails in America,” go to: www.vera.org

 

 

 

 

 

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From Boredom To Books: New Library at Stateville Prison

Barbara Kessel, Tracy Engelson, and Jamie Storm meet at Books to Prisoners to set up library at Stateville

Barbara Kessel, Tracy Engelson, and Jamie Storm meet at Books to Prisoners to set up a library at Stateville

Three R’s (Reading to Reduce Recidivism) and BTP partnered to establish a new library at the Northern District Reception Center, the first stop for many newly sentenced males with time to serve in a state of Illinois prison. A state of-the-art facility built within the last ten years on the grounds of Stateville prison in Joliet, this center has 30,000 men pass through every year, most to be evaluated according to their crime, their sentence and their history, and then assigned to one of the 26 adult prisons incarcerating 49,000 people. Other men are brought to the reception center from around the state to be taken to various courts for parole violations or testimony. The average length of time spent in reception is one to two months, with no TV, no books or magazines, no recreation, just cell sitting.

Ms. Tracy Engelson, the Superintendent of NRC believed that reading material would help the men pass the time and lighten their stress if she could just find some free books. She reached out to Three R’s through the John Howard Association. Three R’s is an organization of volunteers with a center in Urbana and five other collection centers in Illinois. It has provided books directly to twenty of our state’s 26 prison libraries over its nearly five years of existence, yet never knew about the Northern Reception Center, simply because they had neither library nor a librarian.

Books to Prisoners, housed at the Independent Media Center is ten years old and has mailed 100,000 books to 10,000 prisoners in Illinois who have written letters requesting the books or types of books they want. Known as BtP (http://www.books2prisoners.org), this mostly volunteer organization was not really aware of the Northern Reception Center because most of the men there are not encouraged to write/receive letters due to their temporary status.

Books to Prisoners and Three R’s are sister organizations so decided to pool their resources for this special occasion. They were excited to seed a library in a “book desert”, which would contain all the categories requested by the men behind bars we both serve, and only in paperback, the requirement of NRC at Stateville.

The woman who made it all possible, left her post as Superintendent in the charge of an assistant and drove a small passenger transport bus from Joliet, Illinois to Champaign-Urbana on the cold morning of February 10 where she met lots of happy BtP and Three R’s volunteers who helped her load up the van/bus with 15 boxes of boxes. Tracy Engelson drove back to Joliet and in two weeks, she wrote to say the library was sorted and circulating:

“The library is going good so far. It has been running for about three days…so we are still getting the word out.  So far, we haven’t noticed not having any requested books. Again, I thank you for all your help in making this a success. There is such a big need in the place…that really never goes away…but this surely helps.”

Three R’s is working to keep the Stateville Reception Center stocked with books, which wear out after multiple readings. There are plans for Phil Fiscella of Three R’s to deliver pallets of books graciously donated by from Champaign-based Human Kinetics on strength conditioning, fitness, and sports. Another of Three R’s state chapters, the Third Unitarian Church in Chicago, has begun collecting paperbacks for them. If you want to be part of this effort, contact us at our website http://www.3rsproject.org.

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Build Programs Not Jails: Community Mobilizes Against $32 Million Jail

Martel Miller (foreground) and Sophia Lewis stand outside the satellite jail demanding justice

Martel Miller (foreground) and Sophia Lewis stand outside the satellite jail demanding justice

The Champaign County Board is entertaining the idea of spending $32 million on new jail construction. Jail architects, Kimme & Associates, were hired by the county for $150,000 to report on the current jails and propose the construction of a new one. The failure of the county to maintain its two other jails―the “downtown jail” and the “satellite jail”―is one big motivation behind the county board’s decision to consider construction. But Champaign county citizens and activists are troubled at the thought of spending $32 million on building more jail cells while the root causes of arrest and incarceration go largely unaddressed by the county, especially in the moment of #BlackLivesMatter.

At their acceptance speech at the Oscars for their song “Glory” featured in the motion picture “Selma,” musicians Common and John Legend reminded the audience, “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” Indeed, the United States leads every other country in rates of incarceration, imprisoning 2.3 million of its own citizens, a 400% increase over the past 30 years, despite a drop in the rates of violent crimes. Augustus Wood, Co-president of the Graduate Employee Organization explains that prisons are built for profit and to create a surplus population for cheap labor: “Black people are explicitly targeted as we make up almost 40 percent of the incarcerated population in the United States. This jail construction is as much a racial issue as it is an economic issue and we will fight it as such.”

Racial disparity in the criminal justice system has finally come into national view, as the country reels with protest over the continuous killing of unarmed black men at the hands of police. Our own county – a mere 3 hour drive from Ferguson – is not immune from this disparity or this violence. According to the Planner’s Network, over half of those held at Champaign County’s jails are African American, despite African Americans making up 13% of the county’s population. A criminal justice assessment report delivered to the County Board in September of 2013 by the Institute for Law & Policy Planning (ILPP) reports, “While the County’s African American community has called attention to the issue of racial disparity, this perception has been left unaddressed by leaders in the criminal justice system.”

Despite the ILPP report outlining numerous recommendations, from pretrial services to reentry programs, Champaign County still faces a horrific lack of these necessary programs. The county also has no detox center nor does it have a community based mental health program that can fulfill the needs of the county; a seriously flawed dynamic considering who is most likely to wind up in our jails. A recent jail study by the Vera Institute of Justice states that jails have become “massive warehouses” mostly for those living in poverty and suffering from mental illness.

While board members vary in their perspectives on criminal justice reform, all seem to agree that the county cannot afford $32 million construction. “In my estimation, we will likely have a bond referendum to address our facilities’ needs,” says new board member Sam Shore, “To support such a referendum, I will need to see funds within it that can be earmarked to lower our incarceration rate and better serve our population through programming.”

Citizens and activists mobilizing around halting jail construction hope others will also see the financial and social benefits of funding programs. “I’m encouraged that some people on the County Board see this as more than just another building project,” says activist Rohn Koester who works on the “Build Programs, Not Jails” campaign and has been a tutor inside the jails for several years. “Discussions about criminal justice reform and reduced incarceration get to the heart of who we want to be as a community.”

For the privileged, the jail cell remains an imaginary symbol of safety and for the underprivileged a realistically possible fate. Champaign County has a unique opportunity to actively address and reverse racial inequality and to prove that the archaic practice of caging the poor, sick, and addicted can truly be done away with. As the Vera jail study concludes, “A significant body of research shows that our reliance on incarceration as a primary crime control has had only a marginal impact on public safety. As a result, there is an emerging consensus that it has not been worth the fiscal and human costs.”

Kristina KhanKristina has been a social justice activist for 17 years. She currently works on the “Build Programs, Not Jails” campaign and serves Champaign as a birth justice advocate.

 

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