Committee on jail’s future gets tweaks, commander says: “We have an obligation to people here now.”

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.”

10 thoughts on “Committee on jail’s future gets tweaks, commander says: “We have an obligation to people here now.”

  1. Time for these three commissioners to go. They have conflict with everyone and can’t get anything done if it requires working with others. They’re simply awful at their jobs.

  2. The city has in the last couple of years has built several new buildings that need to be used to address the hardened criminal element that can be held responsible. This will allow for our LEO to help to protect people and property. Using a three strike system to help monitor criminal activity. The first time is given a no trespassing notice and placed on a daily log. The second time they are required to enter a rehab facility. The prosecutor review their compliance on a monthly report. The last strike they will be sent to the judicial. This hardened criminal will leave our safe and civil community. If they return they will be sent back to prison where they belong. This will help the nonprofit groups to serve the civil citizens who need help.

      1. That is an entirely fair statement when, meeting after meeting, committee members are asking for city input. Yet the commissioners amend the committee composition to include another commissioner, cut judicial seats and still will not include a city seat at the table. Jim’s comment is entirely fair.

  3. So… the commissioners increased their own membership on the committee to all three commissioners. The commissioners have ZERO criminal justice experience. Yet, they felt the need to cut down the number of committee members representing the judicial branch… who have significantly more criminal justice experience than the commissioners? Is this for any other reason than the commissioners not liking any pushback from the judicial branch?

    I would n’t be surprised if the commissioners wanted to limit the decision to just themselves. That’s been their message to the public this entire time. Wasn’t it Julie Thomas (or perhaps Lee Jones) who advocated for people “staying in their lanes,” while taking steps to ensure that the commissioners are the main decision makers about the jail?

    1. Not only do they have no experience they have no respect. Who talks this way to a judge and calls her by her first name? If you disagree with a judge you appeal, you write law review articles, and you run against them. But these people put their lives on the line when they put that robe on. The ONLY way to address Judge Stafford when she’s acting in her capacity as a judge is”your honor” or “judge.” It’s no exaggeration to say our democracy depends on it. So little respect on so many levels.

      1. Heck, I’ve seen judges in public at the grocery store or doctor’s office or even a bar once and I always walk up and say “Hello Judge _____, how have you been?” I would never refer to an officer of the court the same way I would my friend or coworker unless they’ve specifically asked me to do so. And in public settings? Always Judge _____, no matter what.

  4. @Margaret- this is another example of the commissioners being unwilling to listen and consider that maybe the best solutions for our county come from collaboration and working together. At last night’s city council meeting, we heard more of the city council’s desire to offer suggestions and land (?!) to help meet our need for new, or at least updated, jail facilities. In the past two years alone, I can count numerous examples, that Dave has documented, of the disrespect that other elected officials and residents feel from the commissioners. To tell anyone that they need a reality check when they point that out to you is incomprehensible.

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