February 19, 2017

Pete HaackJustice Matters

An interfaith network working for justice in Lawrence

Justice Matters is a diverse group with members who have joined for many reasons, and I can’t speak for everybody. I can only tell you that I joined because there are things I want to know. I’m told that we need a bigger jail, and that may be right, but it seems like something that is worth asking questions about, which is what Justice Matters is doing.

When the jail plan came out, Justice Matters asked if some people were being jailed because of a mental health crisis, and if having a crisis center might help these people avoid problems leading to jail. To their credit, our county leaders investigated and have started plans for a crisis center designed to stop health problems before they become legal problems. But they still think we need a bigger jail, and they might still be right, except that Justice Matters is asking about out some other things, too.

For example, sometimes people eligible for release from jail are held because they can’t afford bail. Does Douglas County have a lot of prisoners held because they are too poor to buy freedom? Nobody knows, but maybe if we did know and we decided to not jail people for poverty, then we wouldn’t need so big a jail. That is something I want to know.

Here are some more things I would like to know. Recent state budget cuts have strained the judicial system. Are people in sitting in jail because it takes longer to get into court? Could we reduce the jail population by having more judges? Can we use technology like ankle monitors as an alternative to jail for low-level offenders like shop-lifters or people who missed a traffic court date? Such a system would allow people to keep going to work and caring for their families, which would reduce the disruptions and chaos that can lead to more crime. I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I feel like these are the sorts of questions that Christians are always called upon to ask.

For more information about Justice Matters and the issues we are currently researching and studying you can contact either Joe Snyder joesnyder42@gmail.com or Pat Lechtenberg plek10berg@aol.com, or visit the website: