[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #4 in February 2007]
ABOLITION is the act of “formally repealing an existing practice through legal means.” Among organizers in Chicago today, the most prominent use of the term is by the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Another group that draws from an abolitionist perspective is Critical Resistance, whose goal is to “end the Prison Industrial Complex.” Abolition in America is most commonly associated with the end of slavery. The work of the anti-slavery abolitionists led to the ratification of the 13th Amendment which reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” It is important to note that, to this day, slavery is still legal in the US as a form of criminal punishment.
COMMUNITY JUSTICE recognizes that citizens must play a fundamental role in neighborhood peace and safety efforts. Practices of community justice vary from those that are controlled by the state with some influence by residents, to those that are controlled by residents and neighbors while largely excluding the state. As discussed in the book Community Justice by Todd Clear and Eric Cadora, the three essential components to community justice are place, adding value, and public safety. Speaking to place they assert that, “Community justice refers to actions that take place in a designated location, a neighborhood or section where people who live see themselves as sharing life together.” For community justice practitioners, whether a judge or a block club leader, public safety means much more than having surveillance cameras on every block. Rather public safety means the ability to live everyday life without fear of wrongdoers, be they citizens or police.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE “refers to the system used by government to maintain social control, prevent crime, enforce laws, and administer justice.Law enforsement, courts, and correction are the primary agencies charged with these responsibilities. When processing the accused through the criminal justice system, government must keep within the framework of laws that protect individual rights.” This system revolves around the notion of crime and criminality (i.e. the propensity to violate the law). The municipalities, counties, and state government in Illinois, spend roughly $7 billion dollars annually to support the many levels of the criminal justice system. An emerging public policy trend is Justice Reinvestment, which seeks the reallocation of criminal justice dollars for more community-based approaches to public safety that focus on increasing opportunities. To learn more about Justice Reinvestment go to: http://www.soros.org/resources/articles_publications/publications/ideas_20040106
JUVENILLE JUSTICE operates on the understanding that children are fundamentally different from adults. Armed with a rehabilitative mission, the first juvenile court was created in Chicago and was designed to provide unique protection for young offenders. In addition to the juvenile court, juvenille justice systems involve juvenile probation departments, as well detention centers and state correctional facilities. In recent decades juvenile systems in states like Illinois have been impacted by shifting public perceptions of young people. Through media portrayals of youth of color as hardened criminals and “super predators,” young people have become increasingly criminalized even as youth crime rates have declined. In Cook County, stricter laws and worsened detention conditions have helped galvanize momentum for reform. On July 1st of 2006 Illinois created a new department of Juvenile Justice, and the County Juvenile Detention Center is currently under federal investigation.
MASS INCARCERATION refers to the extraordinary number of people being locked up in the US today. Of the more than 2.3 million Americans behind bars, the overwhelming majority have been taken from the poorest neighborhoods and counties in the country. In 2005, nearly $525,000,000 was spent imprisoning residents from Cook County alone, mostly from Chicago’s under-resourced Black and Latino neighborhoods. Among the many unknowns of contemporary incarceration policies are the political implications of removing residents of a community en masse. The use of state resources to support policies of mass incarceration can have dramatically negative impacts on a community’s capacity to create and maintain their own practices of peacemaking. Targeting predominately poor people of color over the last 35 years, the prison population in Illinois has risen over 500 percent. This rise has tremendous implications for the children of the incarcerated and the Department of Children and Family Services.
POLICE TORTURE refers to the physical and psychological violence inflicted on residents by police officers, usually to extract a confession. While significantly less common than police brutality and police harassment, it is well known that systematic police torture has occurred in Chicago in recent times. The extreme expression of a law enforcement approach predicated on social control, torture is a clear form of state violence and a violation of human as well as constitutional rights. Even as the Chicago Police Department works to strengthen community partnerships, build trust with neighborhood residents, and improve standards of police accountability, well documented torture cases continue to go without prosecution.
PRISONER REENTRY occurs when an incarcerated person is released and returns to live with the non-incarcerated segment of society. In the 2006 Crime and Justice Index by Metropolis 2020, reentry is defined as “the period in which people transition from incarceration to freedom, including release from jails, state prisons, federal institutions, and juvenile facilities.” This report observes that prisoners are being released at roughly the same rate as they are being locked up. Just as the US has the highest incarceration rate in world history, it also has the highest release rate. The lack of viable employment and housing options in communities where most people return, contributes to the fact that recidivism (i.e. return to prison after release) is the norm rather than the exception in Illinois. Most of the roughly 30,000 people returning to Chicago from prison each year, move to those parts of the city that are experiencing rising housing costs, a devastated jobs base, and increased displacement.
RESTORATIVE JUSTICE provides a healing and transformative approach to repairing harms, and addressing the underlying reasons for any offense. It places decisions in the hands of those who have been most affected by a wrongdoing, and gives equal concern to the victim, the offender, and the surrounding community. Rather than a focus on the rules that have been broken, restorative justice pays attention to the harms that have been done. Participants in a restorative justice process, be it a peacemaking circle or a victim-offender panel, agree to work together to reach consensual outcomes. These processes involve listening to one another and respecting one another’s ability to work through the difficult emotions present.
SCHOOLHOUSE TO JAILHOUSE PIPELINE speaks to the direct connection between public school disciplinary codes and the number of youth behind bars that were expelled from school. As defined by the Advancement Project, the pipeline references the removal of kids from their educational environments through zero-tolerance policies and reliance on police as disciplinarians. Recent reports have found that the majority of Chicago youth in juvenile detention were arrested on school property. For many young people of color growing up in low-income households and under-resourced areas, school has become a site of heightened arrests and/or military recruitment. Meanwhile corrections spending in Illinois rose four times faster than higher education spending between 1990 and 2004, and second-generation incarceration (where the children of the imprisoned themselves end up behind bars) is on the rise. However Chicago Public Schools has started to make significant improvements in its approach towards school safety. For more information visit: http://www.stopschoolstojails.org/