West Side social service providers gathered at BUILD Chicago's offices, 5100 W. Harrison St., last week to meet Delrice Adams, the newly hired executive director of the Cook County Justice Advisory Council.
Established in 2013, the council is responsible for working with various entities within county government, as well as local law enforcement, in order to reduce the prison population and help ex-offenders re-enter society.
During the Sept. 7 meeting, organized by outgoing Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), Adams and her leadership team outlined her priorities for the council, which include conducting more community outreach, emphasizing more collaboration with community stakeholders and educating nonprofits about the grants that the council allocates every two years.
Nicole Seaton, the council's grants coordinator, gave a presentation before those in attendance at the meeting about the type of grants her body allocates. They total around $4 million each round and are divided into three categories: violence prevention, recidivism reduction; and restorative justice.
Seaton said that nonprofits can apply for all three grants, as long as each is used to fund programs tailored to address each area. Nonprofits can't, however, apply twice in a row for grants and the grant can't more than 20 percent of an organization's operating budget.
In addition, she said, applications must have been in existence for at least three years at the time they apply for the grants. The next round of grants is in 2019.
Kim Davis-Ambrose, the council's community engagement coordinator, said that the council is pursuing three major strategies for reducing the county's prison population.
The first is to make it easier for people who have been accused of non-violent crimes to post bail. The second is a pilot program currently operating in Austin, North Lawndale and the South Side's Rosalind community, where police officers ave discretion to issue citations for certain offenses; rather than automatically arresting people. The third strategy is to heighten community engagement.
"Different community groups will come out to different town hall meetings, Davis-Ambrose said. "We want to have a dialogue about racial inequity that exists in the justice system. We have to talk about that — we have to unpack all that luggage."
Adams said that public outreach must be done from the perspective that different communities have different needs. Those needs, she added, are often best identified through community organizations.
"It's important, when we talk about practice and prevention, that we look individually at issues, so your participation is important," she told audience members.
Adams said that the outreach meetings haven't been scheduled yet. In the meantime, urged Boykin, West Side residents should not be shy about sharing their own ideas with the council.
"That's what [the council] needs to hear," he said. "If you have your outside-the-box ideas, tell them right now. And also, talk to your elected officials. I encourage you to continue to work hard, work together and make the Weest Side, the County of Cook, the safest place in the nation."
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