In December, Bloomington’s city council unanimously rejected a rezone request for some land in the southwestern tip of the city, where county commissioners had proposed building a new jail.
But planning for the possible construction of a new Monroe County jail continues—as a response to the reports from two consultants delivered to county government 18 months ago. As one of the reports puts it: “The jail facility is failing…”
Still set for Monday (Jan. 23) is the next meeting of the community justice response committee (CJRC). That’s the group that was established by county commissioners to address the problems highlighted in the consultants’ reports.
Even as work continues on planning for the future of Monroe County’s jail, sheriff Ruben Marté’s jail commander, Kyle Gibbons, has addressed both the county council and county commissioners at recent meetings of those elected bodies. His basic message: “We have an obligation to people here now.”
Next week’s CJRC meeting had been canceled, but was put back on the calendar with a revised time of 5:30 p.m. Based on notifications from the county, the scheduling adjustment was made, in order to allow the attendance of Mary Ellen Diekhoff, the presiding judge of Monroe County’s circuit court.
But next Monday, it’s not clear how many of the four judges who were part of the 14-member committee at the start of the year will still be included.
At their Wednesday work session this past week, county commissioners voted to amend the ordinance that established the CJRC—reducing the membership for the judicial branch from four to just two seats.
The presiding judge is still designated as a member, with the other one—instead of three—chosen by the judges.
Another change to the committee membership is that all three commissioners, instead of two, will now be included on the committee. Up to now, Lee Jones and Julie Thomas have served as commissioner appointments to the CJRC. The ordinance amendment means that Penny Githens will be added as a member of the CJRC.
At Wednesday’s work session, the three commissioners voted unanimously to amend the ordinance, but indicated the amendment would be put on their meeting agenda for next Wednesday to be “ratified.”
When the CJRC meets on Monday, it looks like as many as four judges might still have a seat at the table, even if two days later they will definitely be down to two.
Friction between some of the judges and the commissioners was evident at CJRC’s first meeting of the year. On that occasion some committee members called on commissioners to include Bloomington officials as members, and to seek help from the city on finding land within the city limits that might be suitable for construction of a new jail.
At one point, when circuit court judge Catherine Stafford sought to advocate in favor of including city representatives, commissioner Lee Jones said, “I’m sorry, Catherine, would you please stop interrupting me.” Stafford replied, “I will be happy to speak next.”
As the committee does its work to plan for the future, jail commander Kyle Gibbons—who took over after Marté was sworn in as new sheriff on New Year’s Day—is living in the present.
Gibbons has reported in the last couple of weeks to the county council and the county commissioners that he has started a thorough cleaning of the current jail, which is located at 7th Street and College Avenue. As the cleaning effort has gotten underway, it has become “a much larger project than we anticipated,” Gibbons said. It requires taking things apart and putting them back together, he added.
In addition to the basic cleaning work, Gibbons described among other initiatives a planned transition from a system where prisoners are locked down in their individual cells 23 hours a day, to one where they have access to a “day room” from 8:45 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. That means they’re locked down just 9 hours a day.
Gibbons described how the transition will include allowing prisoners to eat in the day room, instead of only serving them food through the “bean hole” of their locked cell. The idea is to establish routines that are closer to the patterns of socialization that they’ll encounter when they are released.
This past Wednesday, Gibbons reported to the commissions the current inmate count is 191—the jail has 294 beds. In the last 48 hours, the jail had 19 new bookings, but 18 releases.
Gibbons said, told commissioners: “We just want to make sure that their time in the jail is something that they can build off from, rather than something that holds them back.”