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Opinion: Toni Preckwinkle: $70 million 'manna from heaven' could prevent violence

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle walks in the Bud Billiken Parade on Aug. 8, 2015. | James Foster/for Sun-Times Media

Recent attention has been focused on an alarming rise in the murder rate in many American cities. Young black and brown men are killing other young black and brown men. In Cook County, these murders occur virtually daily. But even as the drumbeat continues for more aggressive and, in some cases, repressive policing, we are on the cusp of a possible breakthrough in effective violence prevention.

It is a well-worn cliché that the most violent neighborhoods are the poorest urban and suburban communities that offer no safety, no jobs and no opportunity. These enclaves and the only slightly more affluent working class neighborhoods that often border them were particularly hard hit by the fraud that underlay the bursting of the mortgage bubble.

As a result of that fraud, major banks are paying huge fines. Much of that money will go in funds targeted to assist the victims of violent crime.

Next year, the State of Illinois expects to receive more than $70 million in federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds. These funds will be administered by the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority.

Again and again, as Cook County Board President I have seen how our ability to serve traumatized youth in ravaged neighborhoods is hampered by the crippling cost of our criminal justice system. We are working collaboratively to bring down these costs. But in this context, frankly, the VOCA money, coming from fines rather than taxes, and paid by wealthy institutions and not by the poor, looks like manna from heaven.

In the past this money has largely gone to provide services to women who have been victims of violent crimes. This is important work that must continue. But we must not wait for men to commit crimes, incarcerate these men and then offer support to some of their victims. We have an opportunity to pro-actively confront the significant challenges that lead to the commission of crime.

Everyone who works in our war torn communities knows that many of the young men and boys who are on the path to violence have been themselves the victims of terrible crimes. We have to offer trauma-informed treatment to these young men and boys even if they have started to commit offenses. We must help their families, especially their younger siblings, who endure loss of income, loss of parental support, evictions and social isolation because of crime, including offenses committed by sons, brothers and fathers.

It is always tempting to divide people up in the good and bad. While the media highlights victims whose circumstances are particularly appealing, our approach must be much broader. We must protect public safety. We must implement and evaluate trauma informed treatment and supportive services. People who are both victims and offenders must be included, with appropriate safeguards, in programming aimed to restore damaged young psyches, or men and boys will return, a little older and a little more desperate, to the communities where they were born and suffered.

Toni Preckwinkle is President of the Cook County Board




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