Budget for Black Lives: Budget Hearing Testimony

 In General

On September 9, 2020, the Budget for Black Lives Coalition put forth a proposal that the county divest $157 million from the Sheriff’s Office and invest that money equitably into public services. 

On October 15, 2020, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued the Cook County budget recommendations for 2021. This budget proposal includes $42 million in expansions in public services in Black and Brown communities that were part of the requests laid out in the Budget for Black Lives. However, it does not go far enough in divesting from Cook County Jail. Black and Brown communities in Cook County are in deep crisis and need major investments now to help people thrive and prevent harm at the source. We believe the County can and should do more. Significant divestments from the jail would make this possible, even during the budget crisis created by the COVID-19 economic depression. CCBF’s Policy Fellow Briana Payton delivered the following comments today in support of the Budget for Black Lives during Cook County’s public hearing on the proposed 2021 budget.


My name is Briana Payton, and I am speaking on behalf of the Chicago Community Bond Fund. 

The Chicago Community Bond Fund has operated a revolving bail fund in Cook County since 2015. As of today, CCBF has paid more than two million dollars in bond to secure the pretrial freedom of over 500 people. Since 2016, we have worked with our partners in the Coalition to End Money Bond to lead advocacy efforts to dramatically decrease pretrial incarceration in Cook County and across Illinois. 

CCBF is also part of the Budget for Black Lives Coalition, which formed in the summer of 2020 to advocate for the Justice for Black Lives Resolution. In that powerful statement, you, our county commissioners, publicly acknowledged the devastating impact of systems of policing and incarceration on Black communities, and committed to divesting resources out of those systems and into services that truly meet community needs.

In the spirit of your resolution, the Budget for Black Lives Coalition called for cutting the Sheriff’s budget by $157 million and investing that money into housing, restorative justice, jobs, health care, and more. Many of your constituents voiced their support for this budget proposal, in meetings, emails, tweets, and phone calls with commissioners numbering in the hundreds. This budget was also endorsed by over 40 community organizations representing thousands of members across Cook county. 

Despite this outpouring of of support, despite the countless lives that have been irreparably harmed by Cook County Jail, and despite the fact community organizing efforts have driven the jail’s population down to just half what it was 7 years ago, the proposed 2021 budget cuts a mere $25 million, or 4% from the Sheriff’s nearly $600 million budget.  While we are pleased that the Sheriff’s budget was decreased, $25 million is only a drop in the bucket. If the Sheriff’s budget was cut in proportion to the population decrease in the jail, it would have been lowered by at least $117 million.

While Provident hospital on the Southside faces 130 confirmed layoffs in this budget proposal and loses an emergency department that saves thousands of lives each year, Cook County Jail has lost nothing but vacant positions. While vitally needed clinics are closing in the communities hardest hit by COVID-19, Cook County Jail has seen no substantive cut to its operations.

Commissioners, we are moving in the right direction by decreasing the Sheriff’s budget and increasing investments in our communities. However, if we are going to make meaningful progress toward our goals of community safety and racial equity, our first steps cannot be this small. Lives depend on Cook County making greater and bolder strides toward justice. When you hold back, our communities continue to suffer and even die at the hands of racist, criminalizing institutions. Cook County residents deserve better. Thank you.

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