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The 2022 Kent County Budget: Funding the Prison Industrial Complex means funding harm against Black and Brown communities

November 23, 2021

Last week, it was reported that the Kent County Commission passed the 2022 budget, at $526.9 million.

The MLive article cites one County Commissioner and provides some of the numbers for what the 2022 budget dollars are allocated for. Unfortunately, there is no link to the County’s 2022 budget, a link we provide here.

The County did hold one public hearing on the 2022 Budget, on November 4, but there was little promotion of that hearing by both the County government and by the local news media. After a presentation about the 2022 Budget at the November 4th meeting, not one person got up to speak about the proposed budget.

Like the Grand Rapids City Budget, the public has virtually no real input on how their tax dollars are being spent. Earlier this year, groups just Defund the GRPD pushed for more time to participate in crafting the annual budget, more user friendly budget proposals and for the city to adopt a participatory budgeting process, where the public could actively make decisions on how their tax dollars are being spent.

And like the Grand Rapids City Budget with the GRPD, the Kent County Budget also allocates a great deal of money for the Sheriff’s Department. In addition, the Kent County Budget provides significant funding for the Courts and the Kent County Jail. All of these budgeting priorities, the Courts, the Jail and the Sheriff’s Department, can be categorized as part of the Prison Industrial Complex – with law enforcement making arrests, with courts sentencing people and the jail detaining people.

In looking at the 2022 Kent County Budget, there is $52.3 million allocated for the Courts and $99.8 million for the Sheriff’s Department, which includes the administration of the Kent County Jail. All total, the Prison Industrial Complex in Kent County, is costing the public $152.1 million. This means that about a third of the County’s budget is allocated for the arrest, sentencing and incarceration of people, what the County euphemistically refers to as “Public Safety.”

And just as groups like Defund the GRPD and Justice For Black Lives have been calling for the re-allocation of police money for things like housing, education, etc., imagine what the $152.1 million could fund for improve the lives of people in Kent County, rather than funding a system that primarily punished Black and Brown people. Maybe it is time that we scrutinize the county funding that disproportionately harms BIPOC people and protects systems of power in this community. The 19 member Kent County Commission seems to agree with this, since the budget was unanimously approved. 

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