Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday November 3rd, 2015, 4:25pm

Cook County Commissioners, Faith Leaders Push For Increased Restorative Justice Funding

Restorative justice advocates and two Cook County commissioners want an increase in county funding for community-based violence prevention programs aimed at encouraging positive behavior, reducing recidivism and addressing trauma in communities.

Cook County Commissioners Robert Steele (2nd) and Bridget Gainer (10th) announced Tuesday morning that they plan to introduce an amendment to the proposed 2016 county budget that would boost grant funding for restorative justice organizations, like those providing victim-offender mediation.

"The important thing is to give the community, and especially young people, the tools to solve these problems, because violence isn't going anywhere, and unless we empower young people, their parents, their friends and everyone in the community who cares about a quiet, safe, nice place to live, then we're just gonna keep solving the same problems over and over again," Gainer said. "Instead of just waiting for these things to happen, it's time to get involved and take action at the beginning."

The commissioners were joined by leaders of the Chicago-based Community Renewal Society (CRS), a progressive, faith-based group advocating for social and economic justice.

"We're here because our county can and must do more to fund community-based restorative justice and violence prevention," said CRS board member Eddie Knox, pastor of Pullman Presbyterian Church. "We're here because so many people are dying in our city and within our county that we need to do something that will bring about a significant kind of change."

"There is a deep need," he added, "to have restorative justice in our faith-based churches and organizations and community organizations to help people work through the kind of issues that will help with prevention and stopping some of the violence that is taking place out there."

The proposed 2016 Cook County budget, which is expected to go up for a vote at the November 18 board meeting, includes $500,000 in restorative justice grant funding, the same amount included in this year's budget.

The two commissioners have not yet determined what type of increase in restorative justice funding they plan to propose during the budget amendment process, Steele said.

CRS wants the 2016 Cook County budget to include a total of $2 million in funding for community-based restorative justice initiatives, Knox said.

"We're only looking at an increase of about one-tenth of 1 percent of the total $4 billion budget, and we think that might be able to be managed and found by the commissioners," he said, adding that county savings from recent reductions in the county jail population plus the planned demolition of three county jail buildings could help fund restorative justice programs.

The commissioners did not provide specifics when asked how a potential increase in the restorative justice grant program would be funded.

"When you have a budget of this size," Gainer said, "you have to step back and say, 'What are the things that government has to do, and what are the things others can do?' So when you think about anything to do with the criminal justice system, especially stopping the flow into a function that's much more expensive for us on the back end, I think there are an enormous number of opportunities, and that will be in the budget amendment in a couple weeks."

Steele followed up by saying that "opportunities for creating new revenues" should also be explored. However, he stressed that "no taxes and no fees will be assessed to our public to create more funding for this program."

In noting problems with the way in which grant money was doled out as part of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, the state's now-defunt anti-violence program operated under former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration, reporters asked the commissioners about the process through which Cook County awards restorative justice grants.

"We have an incredibly rigorous process at the county that not just vets who the entities are that are preforming the work, but what they've done in the past and what they're planning to do in the future. And they get monitored in that time," Gainer said, adding that the public also has the opportunity to weigh in during the grant awarding process. 

"We have had an excellent track record up until this time, and I think the future is very bright," she said.

Chicago Police Torture Survivors, Activists Speak Out

Meanwhile, Chicago police torture survivors, their families and police accountability activists held a separate criminal justice-related event on Tuesday. 

At a press conference organized by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression (CAARPR), the group spoke out this afternoon prior to an evidentiary hearing in Cook County Court on the alleged torture of two men, George Anderson and Anthony Jakes, by now-retired Chicago police detectives who worked under former police commander Jon Burge.

Anderson and Jakes allege that Chicago police tortured them into false confessions in separate murder cases back in 1991. The men were "subsequently charged and sentenced to natural life and forty years, respectively," CAARPR said in a news release, adding that the "Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) ruled that there is credible evidence that both were tortured."

Those at Tuesday's press conference demanded that all alleged Chicago police torture victims be granted evidentiary hearings and that "all torture confession convictions be overturned and all torture cops be fired, prosecuted, and their pensions stripped."

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