Dear Yamhill County Commissioners Kulla, Starrett, and Olson,
My name is [YOUR NAME] and I am a resident of [YOUR TOWN]. As Yamhill County finalizes the 2020-21 countywide budget, I want to express a concern for the amount of funding that is currently being allocated to the Yamhill County criminal justice program. The current approved 2020-2021 budget allocates 23 percent of the total budget to criminal justice, an increase of almost $500,000 from the 2019-2020 budget. Meanwhile, the Health and Human Services (HHS) approved budget for 2020-2021 is decreased by almost $5 million relative to last year. The reduction in HHS funding is particularly concerning because HHS is responsible for emergency response to COVID-19, which disproportionately impacts non-White communities. I understand that some of this funding is provided through the federal government for specific projects. Nevertheless, how we spend our public funds expresses our values as a county, and I do not believe that our city should continue to over-invest scarce resources in the Yamhill County Criminal Justice Department.
Yamhill County’s efforts to redirect community members away from prison through the SMART sentencing project, and to reduce the impact of racial and economic status on release through the Pretrial Justice Program, are important first steps. However, these programs must be accompanied with investment in community-based and peer-led services and resources that address the root causes of crime like housing and economic insecurity. We must combat homelessness (which increased 47 percent in 2019) by reinvesting in programs like the Ending Homelessness Project. We must divert those with substance abuse issues away from the prison system by investing in drug prevention and treatment programs through Yamhill Valley Treatment and the Health and Human Services Department. Reallocating the Criminal Justice Program budget to programs like HHS, Community Services, and Culture and Recreation will improve public health and community safety.
The economic impact of COVID-19 requires a complete reimagining of how we allocate county resources, and makes clear the necessity for prioritizing investments in communities’ health and well-being. The systems of policing and incarceration have no role in public health or safety; prisons and jails are vectors for the spread of COVID-19 and have always been antithetical to public health. Existing racial and economic disparities will only worsen in the wake of this ongoing crisis. We know that this virus is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown communities and that this disparity is caused by racist systems that affect how and when people receive care.
This moment of reckoning with our nation's history of racist policing practices is an opportunity to rethink public safety in this county and reinvest in services that more effectively benefit our residents. We know that meeting the basic needs of our communities is the only way to ensure their health and safety.
[YOUR NAME][YOUR ADDRESS]
[YOUR PHONE][YOUR EMAIL]