Planning for a New Justice Center

On Friday afternoon, December 19th, the City Club conducted a forum titled “Planning for Justice” regarding possibilities for the new justice center that Cuyahoga Country will assuredly build. 

The guest speaker was Ms. Karen Chinn, President of Chinn Planning, Inc., who was one of the national consultants who in 2019 worked on the first stage of the project which was “an assessment of Cuyahoga County’s entire criminal justice system and the factors that have an impact on things like jail population and the rate of court filings.” 

The forum’s composition was a conversation between Ms. Chinn and Ms. Rachel Dissell, Accountability Mentor from Cleveland Documenters. 

From Ms. Chinn, we learned that collection of all relevant data is a vital factor in the planning process and input from all parties involved is paramount. The latter might include architectural planners, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, community leaders, government officials, those employed by the justice center, and even present/past detainees, and their families. 

Then a unified vision must be formed based upon the collaboration. At this time, the project can be brought to fruition and should be a success.  

From her own standpoint, formed over 37 years of personal experience and extensive research, Ms. Chinn contended that a relatively small percentage of detainees were there for violent crimes (i.e. murder, rape, assault, armed robbery) so most of the rest could be successfully dealt with by supervisory social programs. Thus, contrary to the belief of many, a larger justice center would not be necessary to create public safety. 

To be sure, Ms. Chinn made many suggestions such as implementing pre-trial screening services countywide that would allow for many more suspects to be released without posting cash bail; expanding crisis-intervention so suspects with mental health or substance abuse issues can be properly treated; pathways for those who have violated probation without committing new crimes to be dealt with without being incarcerated. 

During the Q and A, we asked Ms. Chinn if special services are needed for those who have immigrated to the United States and are not proficient in English and she very much agreed that notices about court appearances must be bilingual and, accordingly, more interpreters are needed. 

We also asked if she learned a lot from studying projects in other countries and she said a lot could be learned from Scandinavian countries because they have more of a sense of community than we do and thus provide more social services that can be utilized to help suspected offenders.   

We, ourselves, very much agree with what Ms. Chinn had to say as did Mr. Kareem Henton from The Bail Project which was one the Community Partners for the day. 

In fact, at the beginning of the forum, Mr. Henton addressed us for a few minutes and said that he had spent a lot of time at the justice center advocating for various  detainees and that he is now of the conviction that an approach that is much more “humanitarian” than what now exists is, indeed, very much needed.  

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