Joint meeting of Monroe County electeds to mull criminal justice report: “The jail facility is failing …”

“The jail facility is failing and cannot ensure consistent and sustainable provision of constitutional rights of incarcerated persons.”

Image links to .pdf of executive summary of RJS Justice Services report.

That’s one of several blunt assessments in a criminal justice and incarceration study dated June 20, 2021, which was released by Monroe County commissioners on Monday night. The study was conducted under contract by RJS Justice Services, with lead consultant Kenneth Ray.

Monroe County’s jail is located on the upper floors of the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center at the northwest corner of 7th Street and College Avenue in downtown Bloomington. The building was constructed in 1985.

The report’s criticism of the jail facility is based on both its design and capacity. About the potential for the jail’s physical configuration to support the kind of programs that are needed, the report states: “The operational efficiency of facility design is non-detectable.”

About the adequacy of the current jail to house the number of inmates who are locked up there, the report says, “The daily inmate population exceeded the jail’s functional capacity on most days since 2004 and all days per year consecutively since 2015.”

A separate report, contracted by Monroe County commissioners with Inclusivity Strategic Consulting, includes among other findings an analysis of the population that exceeds the jail’s functional capacity.

The ISC report says: “With some 250–320 inmates on any given day, and 75–80 percent of those having some form of mental illness and/or SUD [substance use disorder], MCCC [Monroe County Community Corrections] is understaffed with mental health professionals.”

According to the RJS study, Monroe County is estimated to need around 450 jail beds by the year 2049.

A key recommendation of the RJS study is for the county commissioners to complete a study that compares new construction with the capital, maintenance, and operating costs of renovating the existing jail.

RJS gives a preliminary estimate of $56 million to mitigate the current jail’s “real and potential risks posed by physical defects, inadequate architectural design, adverse impact on proper care and treatment, and security problems resulting from facility design and physical deterioration.”

In the shorter term, RJS recommends a raft of different approaches for reducing the jail population. Among them is improving the way judges coordinate with the public defender and the prosecutor, to resolve cases without granting as many continuances.

This week, the three-member board of county commissioners and the seven-member county council will start chewing on the topics of the jail and the judiciary, among myriad other issues described in the two reports.

The two county governing bodies are holding a special joint meeting on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. to start their own consideration of the two reports and to start engaging the public on the topics in the reports.

The meeting will be accessible through the Zoom video conferencing platform.

The contracts for the two consultants were approved by the county commissioners in March of 2019. The RJS contract was approved for $120,000.  The Inclusivity Strategic Consulting contract was approved for $92,000.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay in the delivery of the two reports.