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Coalition questions G8 costs, calls for community investment

Costs for the G8/NATO summit in May could be much higher than current projections from the city, according to a labor-community coalition which is calling for a Chicago G8/NATO Community Fund.

“We think that $65 million is very, very, very low, and based on the experience of other host cities, the actual cost is going to be much higher,” said Elizabeth Parisian, a researcher with Stand Up Chicago.

She said the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario, ended up costing over $1 billion, the bulk of which went to security costs. Costs of housing, transportation and entertainment totaled about $180 million, she said.

Like the upcoming summit, the 2010 G8 was a joint summit (that year it was with the G20), and as expected for the upcoming summit, there were big protests.

Stand Up Chicago is working on developing a more detailed independent cost estimate, Parisian said, but getting information is difficult.

“There’s been no transparency from the city,” she said, adding that “we need to know how much it’s going cost and who’s contributing.”

Last week the Chicago Reader reported that a $55 million federal grant described by officials last year as funding planning for summit security training is actually a routine grant that supports the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Security cost estimates will not be released before the summit, OECM told the Reader.

Funding for community needs

In a letter to Mayor Emanuel last week, community, labor, and civil rights groups asked him to call on corporations contributing to the summit host committee to provide matching donations to a community fund “which can be used to keep libraries and mental health clinics open, as well as to provide direct investment in Chicago’s many struggling neighborhoods.”

Six mental health clinics are slated for closing in April for a cost savings of $2 million. Library hours were recently cut in order to save $1 million.

Read the rest of this entry »

War on Drugs: 40 years of failure?

Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle will speak at a rally Friday to “end the war on drugs” – while the White House steps up efforts to defend its drug policies in the face of growing criticism.

A broad coalition of civil rights, health, policy, faith, community and student groups will hold a Rally to End the War on Drugs on Friday, June 17 at noon at the Thompson Center, Randolph and Dearborn.   It’s the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs.

Participants cite the racially discriminatory impact of the nation’s drug policies – they’ve been recently tagged “the new Jim Crow”– and the expense and inefficiency of addressing health disorders through the criminal justice system, while support for treatment lags.

Meanwhile the White House released a report showing that Cook County leads the nation in the proportion of individuals testing positive for drugs following their arrest.  Read the rest of this entry »

Faith and Justice

A thousand clergy and laity from a range of faith traditions are expected at the Faith Summit for Criminal Justice Reform this Sunday, October 5 at 3 p.m. (a resource fair begins at 1:30 p.m.) at the UIC Forum at Roosevelt and Halsted.

They will endorse a Statement of Faith on the Transformation of the Illinois Criminal Justice System that calls for the state to move away from a system focused largely on “punishment, penalty, and revenge” to focus on “restoration, healing, and transformation of victims of crime, offenders, and [their] communities.”

Organized by the Civic Action Network, a regional network of congregations sponsored by the Community Renewal Society, the effort is “based on the values of many major religious traditions,” said Todd Dietterle, including “the inherent worth and dignity of all persons,” according to the statement. It aims to add the muscle and numbers of a broad regional organizing network to ongoing to efforts to fix a system that costs too much and doesn’t work.

The jail and prison population in the U.S. has quintupled since 1972 — the U.S. now has the world’s highest incarceration rate — but half of those released from prison are re-arrested within three years, according to the statement, which adds: “Current practices have not made our communities safer.”

There has been recent progress in Illinois, Dietterle said, including limited measures for sealing and expunging records, drug treatment programs in two Illinois prisons and drug schools in Cook County as an alternative to incarceration for low-level nonviolent offenders. “But we have a long way to go,” he said.

Sunday’s participants will gather in eight workshops on specific reforms, including increased support for violence prevention street programs, increased assistance for children of the incarcerated and their caregivers, resources to replicate Cook County’s drug schools throughout the state, and greater focus on ex-offenders’ reentry.

One group will discuss a proposal to consider parole for inmates with life sentences who are at least 50 years old and have served at least 25 years of their sentence. Another will discuss the “indefinite sentences of solitary confinement” at Tamm’s Supermax Prison, where “some inmates have been stuck there for ten years, in 24/7 isolation, with no human contact, no phone calls,” Dietterle said.

Many legislators privately acknowledge “the system is terribly flawed,” Dietterle said, but “we have to create political will” in the face of a political dynamic that still seems to favor the rhetoric of harsh treatment of criminals, regardless of cost and effectiveness. “If the faith community doesn’t step up and push reform, it’s not going to happen,” he said.


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