A PASSOVER CAMPAIGN

FOR PUBLIC HEALTH

A partnership with the Illinois Religious Action Center (RAC-IL) & 

Champaign County Bailout Coalition.

With the onset of COVID-19, our prisons in our state face unique and incredibly difficult challenges for public health. The virus is far likelier to spread within their confines, drastically raising the prospect of a pandemic within the prison system. This campaign is advocating for the conditional release of those in prison because of a cash bail they cannot afford, especially if they are at a high risk for COVID-19.

 

The campaign is called Let Our People Go as a reference to the famous line Moses utters to the Pharaoh of Egypt about the Israelite people who had been toiling in slavery under his rule. The Passover story commemorates the Israelites’ struggle to be free from slavery, and of course celebrates their eventual victory.

OUR CAMPAIGN

Why is this issue so important right now?


  • Prior to Governor Pritzker’s Stay-At-Home mandate, legislation to end the cash bail system had been proposed in the Illinois State Senate. With the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, however, most non-COVID related legislation has been postponed.
  • However, because prisons in our state face unique and incredibly difficult challenges for public health, the virus is far likelier to spread within their confines, drastically raising the prospect of a pandemic within the prison system. This campaign is advocating for the conditional release of those in prison because of a cash bail they cannot afford, especially if they are at a high risk for COVID-19.
  • We are also advocating for more and better resources to contend with the spread of the virus within prisons, including access to more tests, and more treatment resources.




What is the issue about cash bail?


  • In the Illinois prison system alone, there are over 250,000 people incarcerated every year. 90% of that population is incarcerated pre-trial. This means that they are in prison even before they have even had a chance to plead their case.
  • A significant majority of this 90% is incarcerated because they cannot afford the cash bail that has been placed on them.
  • Essentially, the prison system in the state of Illinois has become a debtor’s prison, because people who according to our system of law are presumed innocent until proven and convicted guilty, are being held due to an outstanding debt, rather than as the result of a conviction.




What does this have to do with Passover?


  • The campaign is called Let Our People Go as a reference to the famous line Moses utters to the Pharaoh of Egypt about the Israelite people who had been toiling in slavery under his rule. The Passover story commemorates the Israelites’ struggle to be free from slavery, and of course celebrates their eventual victory.
  • As a Jewish community, it is our imperative to use this story of freedom as a motivation to work for the freedom of any other community still struggling in captivity. The Passover seder reminds us every year that we know too well the feeling of being enslaved and oppressed, and that knowledge informs the work we can do to help other communities be free as well.




Isn’t this possibly dangerous?


  • Studies have shown that pre-trial incarceration actually increases the likelihood of recidivism, meaning that the person currently incarcerated is likely to be arrested again, because the imprisonment significantly hampers that person’s ability to either maintain or find employment, keep or find housing, and contribute to their community and family. It also increases the likelihood that the person will accept a plea bargain for a felony charge, which will limit even further their housing, job, and family prospects.
  • In addition, the significant majority of those held in pre-trial incarceration are for non-violent offenses, meaning that the threat they pose to a community is already very low.
  • In Cook County, the amount of people incarcerated pre-trial has reduced 40%, coinciding with a significant drop in major crimes. Upon doing away with cash bail, the state of New Jersey saw a major reduction in crime.
  • In terms of the spread of COVID-19, the sooner we get already overcrowded places de-crowded, the less likely the virus is to spread. Decarceration is in fact a public health benefit.




What can I do right now to help?


  • You can contact the mayors of both Champaign and Urbana, along with the Champaign County Sheriff, our State’s Attorney, and our district’s Circuit Judge to demand that they release those awaiting trial from our county prisons, and increase the resources the prisons have to test for and treat COVID-19





HERE

ARE YOUR

RESOURCES.

LEARN ABOUT CREATING A FAIRER PRETRIAL JUSTICE SYSTEM


Illini Hillel, in collaboration and support with the Illinois Newwork for Pretrial Justice, has created a slideshow viewable by clicking the image below.




NETWORK WITH THE CHAMPAIGN COUNTY BAILOUT COALITION


The Champaign Count Bailout Coalition (CCBC) is a coalition of groups and individuals in Champaign County, IL committed to bailing out individuals in our county jails who cannot afford bail. You can join their Facebook group here.




CALL COUNTY SHERIFF DUSTIN HEURMAN


  • County Sheriff Dustin Heurman: Via Secretary, Teresa Schleinz: 217-384-1205, sheriff@co.champaign.il.us
“Hi, my name is ______ and I live in _________. I’m calling to demand that Sheriff Heurman take steps to dramatically lower the number of people in jail in response to COVID-19. In addition, the Sheriff should loosen movement restrictions for people on electronic monitoring and improve access to phones, video “visitation,” and make sanitation, hygiene and cleaning supplies available free of charge to anyone that remains incarcerated during the pandemic. “As a Jewish community, it is our imperative to use this story of freedom as a motivation to work for the freedom of any other community still struggling in captivity. The Passover seder reminds us every year that we know too well the feeling of being enslaved and oppressed, and that knowledge informs the work we can do to help other communities be free as well.”




CALL STATE ATTORNEY JULIA RIETZ


State’s Attorney Julia Rietz Via Main Office Phone: 217-384-3733, statesatty@co.champaign.il. “Hi, my name is ______ and I live in _________. I’m calling to demand that Champaign County State’s Attorney, Julia Rietz, take steps to dramatically lower the number of people in jail in response to COVID-19. She should instruct the prosecutors to use their discretionary authority to dismiss as many cases as possible, avoid imposing multiple charges for each indictment, and minimize the severity of recommended penalties. She should also instruct judges to give the least restrictive release conditions. As a Jewish community, it is our imperative to use this story of freedom as a motivation to work for the freedom of any other community still struggling in captivity. The Passover seder reminds us every year that we know too well the feeling of being enslaved and oppressed, and that knowledge informs the work we can do to help other communities be free as well.”




CALL PRESIDING JUDGE THOMAS DIFANIS


Thomas DiFanis: (217) 384-3704, Circuitct@co.champaign.il.us (This is the circuit court, but still address your email to the Presiding Judge, Thomas J. Difanis). “Hi, my name is ______ and I live in _________. I’m calling to demand that Presiding Judge Difanis take steps to dramatically lower the number of people in jail in response to COVID-19. This means facilitating bond review hearings for people currently in jail and instructing judges not to admit new people to the jail. In addition, he should ensure everyone under home- confinement surveillance has permission to leave their homes to attend to their basic needs and those of their family during the pandemic.As a Jewish community, it is our imperative to use this story of freedom as a motivation to work for the freedom of any other community still struggling in captivity. The Passover seder reminds us every year that we know too well the feeling of being enslaved and oppressed, and that knowledge informs the work we can do to help other communities be free as well.”




REACH OUT TO YOUR COMMUNITY


Reaching out can be as simple as sending an email to your email contact list. Dear ________ On any given day, around 180 people are incarcerated in Champaign County’s two jails. Almost all of those individuals (over 90 %) are still awaiting trial and are thus presumed innocent under the law. Additionally, there are around 44 people incarcerated 24/7 in their homes under the Sheriff’s electronic monitoring (EM). In general, on top of the personal financial costs associated with EM, individuals incarcerated in their homes face undue hardships in carrying out daily survival tasks like shopping and seeking medical treatment. Their situation worsens when they must request permission for movement out of their house from authorities who are already overextended due to COVID-19-related issues. The ongoing incarceration of all these people is an unacceptable risk to every incarcerated individual as well as public health. People incarcerated in jail are one of the populations most vulnerable to coronavirus and COVID-19, and their protection warrants special emergency action. Jails and prisons are known to quickly spread contagious diseases. Incarcerated people have an inherently limited ability to fight the spread of infectious disease since they are confined in close quarters and unable to avoid contact with people who may have been exposed. Responses such as lock downs, placing people in solitary confinement and limiting access to visits from loved ones are punitive and ineffective responses to outbreaks. Importantly, we know that isolation further endangers people and limiting visitation also has adverse effects. The only acceptable response to the threat of COVID-19 is decarceration. Our campaign is called Let Our People Go as a reference to the famous line Moses utters to the Pharaoh of Egypt about the Israelite people who had been toiling in slavery under his rule. The Passover story commemorates the Israelites’ struggle to be free from slavery, and of course celebrates their eventual victory. As a Jewish community, it is our imperative to use this story of freedom as a motivation to work for the freedom of any other community still struggling in captivity. The Passover seder reminds us every year that we know too well the feeling of being enslaved and oppressed, and that knowledge informs the work we can do to help other communities be free as well. Therefore, I urge you to take steps to dramatically lower the number of people in jail in response to COVID-19. This means facilitating bond review hearings for people currently in jail and instructing judges not to admit new people to the jail. In addition, he should ensure everyone under home- confinement surveillance has permission to leave their homes to attend to their basic needs and those of their family during the pandemic. Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Sincerely, [Your Name]





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(p) 217. 344. 1328

(a) 503 E John St., Champaign, IL  61820