Letter to the editor: Jail research

To the editor:

Voters will be facing a decision about jail expansion and behavioral health services in a referendum. I believe that justice matters. I believe in racial and economic equity. Do we really need a jail expansion to the cost of $44 million? A no vote seemed reasonable in light of the nationwide over-incarceration rate. I was ambivalent and so I signed up for a tour of the jail. Alternatives to incarceration are in place and are expanding. They include those on pretrial release, house arrest and behavioral health court. Recidivism rates have increased as some inmates are transferred to other jail sites and cannot, therefore, participate in this nationally recognized re-entry program on site in Lawrence. Several of the key issues pertaining to voting no are not within the decision-making boundaries of the jail leadership or county commissioners.

So, should we not be looking more at the underfunded court system, the Legislature that decides sentencing guidelines, the police who are being challenged with implicit bias? And how about the educational system? They are at the other end of the prison pipeline, and school suspensions are one of the steps toward early incarceration. Voting no will only hurt those who are currently in jail and will prevent the expansion of a much-needed behavioral health system, including a crisis stabilization center. Improving the lives of those currently incarcerated and creating a behavioral health care system in Lawrence are important steps to making justice matter. I vote yes.