Jail consultant recommends risk-assessments for Champaign County justice system

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.

Community voices questions, concerns to jail consultant at public hearing

By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess.org — On Wednesday, April 17 the group Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice held a public hearing with jail consultant Alan Kalmanoff to air their concerns and ask questions about his ongoing evaluation of the Champaign County jail. Over 70 people were in attendance, from local community members to graduate student members of the Planners Network to county officials and board members including Champaign County Administrator Deb Busey and Sheriff Dan Walsh. The hearing was originally scheduled for the beginning of the month but was postponed because Kalmanoff has been ill. He joined in the conversation remotely via audio and video from his home in Berkeley, Calif. Most questions were about racial and gender disparities in the jail as well as who should provide medical and mental health care for inmates.

Weekly RoundUp: Justice

The United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week over the constitutionality of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, denies federal recognition and benefits for same-sex couples even if their unions are recognized by states. Here’s a look at some of the most recent reports on the issues. A Look at the Issues in the Defense of Marriage Act Case – The New York Times
“The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear almost two hours of arguments on Wednesday morning over the constitutionality of a part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. Here is a look at the background of the case, United States v. Windsor, No.

Alan Kalmanoff, Executive Director of the Institute for Law and Policy Planning

Jail mental health system sparks debate among county officials

By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess.org

The transition for mentally ill inmates from the Champaign County jail to community services is seriously hampered by a lack of coordination and communication between the jail officials and local mental health providers, according to a top county mental health official and a jail consultant hired by the county. The consultant, Alan Kalmanoff, director of the Institute for Law and Policy Planning, said the current system is a failure and called it “an earthquake of an issue.”

Peter Tracy, executive director of the county’s Mental Health Board, attributed the problems to decreases in state funding for local services. He said the mental health board “has done an admirable job of using our local resources to address gaps in the behavioral health system created by State of Illinois funding cuts, but unfortunately we can’t manage to cover all of the gaps.” Kalmanoff said community counselors do not have a consistent and formal way of knowing when an inmate who needs mental health treatment is released. Counselors have an informal system in which they rely on a jail contractor counselor or County Sheriff Dan Walsh to alert them about inmates who need treatment.

Aaron Ammons, a Leader in Social Justice Advocacy

By Amy Harwath / For CU-CitizenAccess.org — Some people who are in a dire financial situation may feel that they have no choice but to deal drugs. But Aaron Ammons was not in a dire situation. And he still dealt drugs. “I got caught up into the streets, wanting to hang out, be cool, do what everybody else was doing, trying to make money,” he said. That was over 20 years ago.

Police move to improve relations with black communities in Champaign, Urbana

Pam G. Dempsey /  CU-CitizenAccess.org and  Jeff Kelly Lowenstein / Hoy — The barber shop in Pirtle’s Mini-Mall on Fourth Street is the kind of place a black youth can easily walk  into and ask for a dollar to buy an ice cream a few doors down  at the busy convenience store. 
Known as the “The Whip,”  the shop opened in the late 1990s in a largely black part of Champaign. Over the years it has become a kind of de-facto community center for the neighborhood.  “It’s like a home away from  home,” said 34-year-old Marchond Hillsman, a barber there who describes himself as a jack-of-all-trades — whether as a counselor to youths or as a guy who can tell you where to find a good electrician or plumber. 

Hillsman knows the black  youths in the neighborhood  well, but he  said most of the kids don’t know local police officers – and many of them fear the police. 
“Anybody, any child should be able to come to a police officer and get help and feel like they can get help and kids don’t  feel that around here,”  he said. 
Several black youths in Champaign confirmed that observation in interviews.  City officials and police in Champaign  and in Urbana acknowledge that they are facing a deep challenge in fixing community police relations.  But they say they are aggressively addressing the problems and are heavily emphasizing community outreach after public confrontations between police and black youths, including the fatal shooting of a black youth by police in 2009. 
“The Champaign Police Department recognizes that the relationship between race and crime has been a controversial topic for over many years in the United States,” said Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb in a statement for this story.

Attorney fights for rights of migrant workers

By Jeff Kelly Lowenstein/Hoy — Enterprise Rent-A-Car must love Miguel Keberlein-Gutierrez. That’s because the supervisory attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago logs 6,000 to 8,000 miles each month during the summer as he zigzags across Illinois in a ceaseless effort to reach out to, connect with, and provide information and legal services to migrant workers. Today’s first stop is at the Rantoul Motel, on the outskirts of a town where migrant workers come each year to detassel corn. “You have rights,” he said, distributing business cards to a group of workers standing in the parking lot.  His voice bears the imprint of his childhood in Wisconsin.