Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2022
Policing is a settler colonial creation to control native populations and is exported aboard to teach other empires how to do the same. In 2007, the FBI found that cops averaged roughly four hundred “justifiable homicides” every year, whereas nearly eighty cops were murdered in the line of duty. These disparities have only further developed, where since 2014, cops averaged nearly one thousand homicides each year, and the number of cops killed in the line of duty remained around forty-eight. Policing and prison systems are premised on punishment, rather than transformative healing, health, and prevention. Thus, as stated in Decriminalization Is Not Enough, Abolition Is a Must, resources and funding which are currently given to our present system of policing and prisons should be reallocated to tools that actually serve the community, rather than on incarceration.
Justice is a means through which people can discuss, decide, and create environments that encourage them thrive and it involves the people who are most impacted by those conditions. In that vein, abolition will look different in each community. The goal of abolition should be prioritizing the needs of each community by allowing the community control and ultimate decision-making ability. Abolition allows each community to communicate, prioritize, and enact methods and means that will make that community the best environment for its members. As Dereka Purnell wrote in Becoming Abolitionists, “activists or abolition-curious people will often ask me, ‘What does abolition look like to you?’ My answers change all the time during conversation, especially since I believe that the dreaming and practicing should happen together. This is what I’m thinking about today as I’m writing the conclusion to this book. Every neighborhood would have five quality features: a neighborhood council; free twenty-four-hour childcare; art, conflict, and mediation centers; a free health clinic; and a green team.” Upon community needs, discussion, and approval, funds currently spent on police and prison systems should be reallocated to education, housing, health care, and public spaces.
How much money is spent on police systems?
Without money spent on police, funds would be available for systems that would improve communities’ wellbeing, health, and environment. In 2021, within the City of Chicago, the Chicago Police Department takes approximately $1.6 billion of the City budget, amounting to approximately fifteen percent of the City’s total budget of $11.6 billion. In addition to the City Funds, the City also granted the department approximately $98 million. However, these cost do not include all police-related expenditures, where in 2020, the City also was required to contribute $737.5 million to the Police Pension Fund. Further, the Chicago Police Department earns additional revenue through engaging in intergovernmental agreement with the City. One example of an intergovernmental agreement is with Chicago Public Schools, where Chicago Public Schools pays it $33 million for school resource officer services.
Further, all the money spent by local government entities on police and prison systems is in addition to the money provided by the state, where in 2014, Illinois appropriated and spent nearly $1.3 billion on prison budgets. Thus, it is clear that within the City of Chicago too much money is being spent on police-related activities.
As stated above, upon community evaluation, need, discussion, and approval, money currently spent on police and prison systems should be reallocated to education, housing, health care, and public spaces. Abolition will not be uniform in each community, but it will start uniformly with conversation and organization amongst people most impacted in the community.
One alternative is that money can be reinvested into education. This includes providing equitable funding for public schools, implementing a progressive tax code, increasing teacher funding and support, increasing the number of social workers and mental health professionals, providing free universal school meals, strengthening the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to increase the federal funding for special education. In addition to K-12 education, reallocating funds to education includes reeducating previously incarcerated people for improved reentry. This includes expanding the pre-release programs such as Adult Basic Education, Pre-GED, General Education Development, Special Education, and Title I, as well as vocational programs, access to secondary education, and library services. In addition to the personal and financial benefits, education improves public health and promotes health equity. As a result, it should be prioritized.
Another alternative is that with less funding going to police and prison systems, money can be allocated to help community members find and access affordable housing. This includes increasing the amount of long-term affordable rental housing, reinvesting and maintaining the existing affordable rental housing from deterioration, helping households access and afford private-market homes, and expanding affordable housing projects. Expanding affordable housing can be achieved through strong incentives for inclusion of affordable units in high-opportunity communities such as density bonuses, reduced parking requirements, expedited permitting, tax abatements or exemptions, and subsidiary programs. Accessing and affording private market homes can be achieved through housing choice vouchers, community land trusts, and deed-restricted homeownership. Using all of these strategies jointly would prioritize housing accessibility and affordability.
An additional alternative is that money can be reinvested into health-related resources. This includes increasing the number of clinics and healthcare facilities to ensure that each community has access to healthcare, mandating around-the-clock access to physicians and other healthcare providers, and subsidizing care options for patients.
Additionally, the money can be reallocated to public spaces. This includes increasing the number of parks in communities, reinvesting in public structures such as schools and libraries, and building communities centers. However, in addition, this can mean reallocating money to teams who are charged with ensuring that communities are clean and free of trash. This can also mean providing childcare and additional community spaces dedicated to providing food and other basic needs.
The above-mentioned alternatives are just some of the options. However, increasing funding for social welfare programs could help alleviate financial stress which have been a motivator for some individuals to engage in criminal activity, and as stated above, reallocating funding can go to providing mental health counseling to actually prevent people from committing these harms.