Councilor Akins Explains No Vote on $171 Million Jail

A Call to Love Rather than Incarcerate

I don’t favor the proposed Jackson County Jail for a number of reasons that are relatively simple: It’s too big at 800 plus beds, too expensive at more than 170 million to build and estimates of 1 billion to operate over 23 years time, and it’s not managed under a community wide trauma informed board.  I could expound on these things but they’ve been explained many times by others who have described those concerns well.

None of that is to say a new jail is a bad idea. A more effective, humane and right sized jail could be worth looking into.

But there is something fundamental about the jail discussion that has me pacing the floor at night. Advocates of the jail claim a bigger jail will help people who are sick and unhoused.

People who are addicted, mentally ill and traumatized, unhoused and hurting are people who have suffered a profound loss of family and community. Mass incarceration cannot make up for what they have lost.

Sheriffs around the nation have tried rehabilitation programs, drug treatment centers and even beds for homeless people in hopes of helping. I believe Sheriff Sickler when he says he wants to help. I believe our commissioners too.

But helping the sick and poor is not a job for law enforcement. Jails are for housing people awaiting trial for serious crimes and people convicted of lesser crimes. We cannot criminalize our way out of mental illness and drug addiction nor poverty.

We cannot fail in our responsibility to each other to the point where the only ones left to care for our most vulnerable people are jailers. It’s a catastrophic failure to say that the sheriff’s department is responsible for our homeless and ill.

This is not a call to oppose anyone trying to find solutions. This is a call to love. This is a call to give those who struggle under the terrible weight of addiction and mental illness the medicine of community.  This is a plea to see those without homes not as criminals–but as us.

I admire the sheriff and the county administration for attempting to find answers. I admire everyone who works hard to heal the wounds of our individualistic culture. But I believe it is time now for us, the people, to take it from here and bring our neighbors in from the cold and to heal our sick. 

If each of us took a day to consider what we would do with even a million dollars to help our fellow neighbor, I imagine we could come up with something daring and helpful. Now picture 170 million. What would you do with that?

Julie Akins, Ashland City Councilor