Ann Arbor Area Community News
Today is the County-wide vote on a 20-year, 0.75mill tax increase to construct a larger County jail, operate that larger jail, and provide alternative treatment programs. While there seems to be general consensus that the alternative programs (such as mental health services and drug addiction treatment) are desirable, that programming accounts for slightly more than a quarter of the predicted $314 million revenues from the millage, with the rest of the revenue dedicated to constructing the larger jail, operating it for 20 years, and paying debt service on the construction bonds, and these other costs have generated a lot of resistance.
The millage’s supporters have stated that the County jail needs to be expanded in order for any part of the local justice system – even alternative treatments – to be effective. The Washtenaw County Criminal Justice Collaborative Council, the body which drafted the proposal, has seen plenty of airtime in the Ann Arbor News, with such articles as “Criminals love crowded jail” and “Tax would help keep mentally ill out of jail”.
Opposition to the millage has received less publicity, with the “No Giant Jail Committee” and the website A2Buzz.org the closest things to official opposition groups. NGJC founder Chuck Ream, has championed the view that an expanded jail will reduce pressure on the County to seek alternative solutions, making it easy for the County to simply lock up non-violent offenders, with marijuana users Ream’s largest concern (especially after Ann Arbor’s Police Chief in November ordered his officers to ignore the successful ballot initiative meant to shield medical marijuana users from police harassment or prosecution).
A Michigan Daily article on a protest against the jail millage cites Ream as offering a compromise position,
Despite his grievances, Ream said that if the University and the community contributed to a revised draft of the millage proposal, he would be in favor of a similar proposal appearing on the ballot in three to six months since it would come from the community. This sentiment was reflected by a flier that was being distributed by the protesters, which said â€œVote No on Proposal A! Help Create Plan B!â€?
and, in yesterday’s editorial, Throwing away the key, the Daily came out against the millage, saying,
Some programs that would be funded by the increased millage, particularly improvements to the countyâ€™s treatment of mentally ill prisoners, are worthy. However, building larger prisons cannot alleviate the problems caused by a flawed criminal justice system that has seen a four-fold increase nationwide in the prison population since 1980. Voters should reject the tax increase to expand the Washtenaw County Jail and instead demand changes to the strict mandatory sentencing laws for nonviolent offenders that inevitably lead to prison overcrowding.
ArborUpdate doesn’t so much have editorials in which to take positions on things; you should read this piece as written by somebody who will be voting “no”.
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