By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess.org — While the debate continues about whether to shutdown Champaign County’s downtown jail, a consultant hired by the county is pushing for a new system for better assessments of how dangerous offenders are.
The consultant, Alan Kalmanoff, believes that such a change will have a longer impact. He said in a draft of his report that objectively assessing criminal offenders will minimize the county jail population and expediently move them through the criminal justice system.
This week Kalmanoff, of the Berkeley, Calif. consulting firm Institute for Law and Policy Planning, presented the draft of his final jail assessment report to the Champaign County Board. Over 20 members of the public attended the study session.
Although the draft report does not include a final action plan for the county to implement, it does include recommendations that county officials and community members can review and comment on over the following week.
Throughout the presentation of his draft, Kalmanoff emphasized multiple times the importance of an “objective risk assessment instrument” at each justice system decision point.
The risk-assessment tool is a points-based evaluation system that is “predictive of danger,” Kalmanoff said. From arrest to pretrial to sentencing and bond, the risk assessment tool awards and deducts points based on objective questions about an offender.
Such questions include whether the person owns a home, is employed, and has a prior arrest history. These factors influence how far along the offender moves in the justice system as well as the severity of sanctions that can be taken against him or her. It also makes the decision-making process more objective to remove possible bias.
“Taking liberty away can be done a lot of ways beside a cage,” Kalmanoff said. He said that depending on the assessed “danger” of the offender, the county needs to implement a series of increasingly severe sanctions that can be used, such as work programs and electronic monitoring, rather than putting both low-risk and violent offenders in jail.
The full version of the draft report can be viewed here. The public is welcome to attend a public meeting tonight, Thursday, May 2 from 6-8 p.m. in the Lyle Shields Meeting Room at the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St., Urbana.
Kalmanoff urged members of the public to read the draft and provide their comments at the public hearing. “It’s [the justice system] half the county budget,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with punishing crime. But it’s crazy to punish the taxpayers worse than the crooks.”
Key Points and Recommendations from the Draft Report
— Abandon the downtown jail as quickly as possible and modify the housing units at the satellite jail. Add a women’s dormitory and a mental health unit to the satellite facility.
— Develop a Criminal Justice Advisory Board composed of justice system leaders to periodically collaborate and assess the county’s criminal justice system.
— Create a continuum of sanctions and services; Reevaluate and divert low-level offenders and punish them outside of the jail to free up the jail “to concentrate on serious cases.”
— Develop and apply a way to measure how dangerous an offender is (done on a point system) to ensure that low-level offenders do not get over-sentenced.
— Improve data and data analysis in law enforcement agencies to develop data-driven management policies.
— Look into using unused location sites, such as the old nursing home, as a minimum-security facility or day check-in center for low-risk, non-violent offenders.