Growing up, I was lucky enough to be able to walk or ride my bike to my school. When I was a bit younger, and lived farther away, the district had door-to-door bus service. This isn’t the case in Chicago. Students who go to magnet or selective enrollment schools have to, in many cases, figure out their transportation. At O’s school, there is a school bus that picks students up at her school and then drops them off at neighborhood schools closer to where they live. It’s still a few miles from her house, but slightly more convenient than having to have an adult go to her school for a pickup.
Yesterday, she called her mom to say the bus wasn’t running and she needed a pick up. I’m picking her up today and called the school to find out if I should meet her at the bus stop or if I have to pick her up from school. The school said the bus wasn’t running all week, but when I called the bus company, they said it ran yesterday and was running today. This kind of communication problem, between the bus company and the school and between both entities and families sucks and there are lots of similar problems with big, bureaucratic systems like Chicago Public Schools.
SeeClickFix is a useful platform and idea for engaging different stakeholders in reporting civic problems and getting them fixed. I’ve heard that a Code for America team will be working with Chicago’s government to implement Open311.
This is also awesome, and ultimately a move in the right direction for not only getting problems identified and fixed, but also helping people living in cities understand how governments work (or don’t work). However, both these platforms address problems mostly dealing with infrastructure. For many in the city, the bigger problems are issues with process: how a licensing application flows through the city, how children get picked up to and from school, income verification to get food stamp benefits … EveryBlock sometimes surfaces these issues, but its model is based around conversations and doesn’t have an accountability model or visualization of how a civic system works built into the system.
I’d really like to see a web platform and supporting on the ground community for identifying and fixing problems with the process of civic institutions. Web platforms are often a panacea for civic problems, but I think its important in this case, just to have a document of “this is how the system is supposed to work”, “this is how it actually works”, “this is who is responsible”, “this is when a problem was identified” and “this is what was done about it.”
Some folks have started organizing to plan resistance to plans to organize against a proposed “justice campus” in Bloomington that would include a new, larger jail (as the jail is notoriously overcrowded and there is a federal lawsuit about conditions in the jail), a juvenile “treatment” facility (as youth from Monroe County who are sentenced to one of these facilities have to be sent out of county), and court and administrative facilities (to make transport of inmates between the jail and the courts (and other services?) easier).Â Ideologically, I am opposed to the expansion of the number of incarcerated people and a sad reality in most communities is that larger prisons and jails are quickly filled (either by sentencing or by the moving of inmates to take advantage of available space or recover costs), but there needs to be some remediation of the conditions at the existing jail for the inmates and the Federal lawsuit may require some kind of action in the end.
So, I don’t want to frame this issue solely in terms of supporting or opposing jail construction.Â If I oppose the jail construction and lose on this and don’t manage to push for increased programming and services for people in the jail and the community at large or assurances that the capacity of the jail will not be used to import people from elsewhere, this is a failure.Â Similarly, calls for increased support of social services, to end injustices that are connected with incarceration, and to change the court system or make other changes to incarcerate fewer people are not dependent on jail construction either way.Â These things need to be part of the dialog and I think it will be a failure if focusing on jail construction as the sole issue means there isn’t space for talking about things.
My personal goals when it comes to this issue are:
- Empower incarcerated people, their friends and family to have a central role in the dialog and policy shaping of the jail and criminal justice in Monroe County
- Include the voice of youth in the dialog about juvenile justice facilities
- Accurately depict the reasons that people are incarcerated in Monroe County and explode the cultural mythologies of crime and incarceration
- Explore alternatives to incarceration in Monroe County and move towards expanding and implementing them
- Address prejudices and stigma about crime, “criminals”, and incarceration
- Connect issues of economic and racial privilege in Monroe County, support (or lack there of) for social services or grassroots community-based support, and development policies and paradigms with incarceration
Ideally, achieving these things would result in a decision to not expand the jail or build a juvenile facility.Â However,Â because I see these things as important, I wouldn’t see the defeat of the jail proposal on fiscal grounds (as is the position of many Republican county government officials/candidates) as a victory because it would be likely that there would community support or support from the county officials who rejected jail construction for the things I mentioned above.