Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Couple Of Questions For The CCJB

Nearly fifty observers attended the meeting of the 18-member Community Criminal Justice Board yesterday, hoping to hear some spirited discussion on the part of the 14 members of this advisory group present. We were especially interested in knowing what their various perspectives were regarding a proposed $21.5 million deal with nearby Middle River Jail, one  that could eventually give us 250 additional jail beds.

We heard little from the members, but there were two actual actions taken: 1) The minutes of the December 8 meeting were approved, and 2) the work of a committee designated to develop alternatives to incarceration was officially authorized (one led by Judge John Paul that had been approved by consensus rather than by an actual voice vote at the December meeting).

Scott Kizner, Harrisonburg Schools superintendent, did make a strong case for the CCJB to promote better ways to prevent young people from getting into negative behaviors that lead to crime, and suggested that Judge Paul's committee include some educators, but no action was taken. Don Driver, head of Social Services, also expressed the concern that the Board take seriously the interest of increased numbers of citizens who are currently speaking out on criminal justice issues.

Two attendees made a motion to request that public input be allowed. When this was denied, a dozen observers associated with a local group called "Moving Beyond Jails" walked out, leaving signs on their empty chairs with the words, "My name is _______, and I have no voice in the Community Criminal Justice Board."

The chair explained that there would likely be opportunity for such comments at a later date, and Judge John Paul, not an actual member of the CCJB, went out of his way to meet with them in the hall to hear their concerns.

The rest of us heard brief reports about the state of negotiations with the Middle River Jail Authority, the goals of Judge John Paul's study group on alternatives to incarceration, and the need for citizens to be understanding and patient regarding the CCJB's work.

Here are some of my questions for the group:

-  How often will you meet, and what mission or purpose statement might you adopt for yourselves?

- As an advisory body, exactly who, or what agencies, do you see yourselves advising, and what might be some examples of the kinds of future recommendations you might be in a position to make?

- How will you conduct your meetings in order to get the optimal benefit of the considerable wisdom and experience represented by members of the group (mostly well educated professionals in local government, law enforcement, education and social services)?

- How might you create a mix of members that more accurately reflects the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of our community?

- In light of your expressed willingness to receive citizen input and feedback, would it be reasonble to allow for 15-20 minutes of public comment at the beginning of future meetings?

I was glad for the opportunity to be present, and especially appreciated the willingness of CCJB members like Pablo Cuevas, Joe Paxton, and Kai Degner (as well as John Paul) to talk with some of us some after the meeting was adjourned.

I believe everyone will benefit by working together to help make ours a safer and more just community.
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