At its work session on Tuesday night, Monroe County’s seven-member council voted 6–1 to adopt a previously distributed memo “as a reflection of the council’s recommendations for the new jail.”
(1) The county council recommends a jail with a bed size of no more than 400.
(2) The county council recommends a jail location as close to existing services as possible.
(3) The justice campus size will be determined by several factors in the future.
Councilor Marty Hawk dissented saying, “I think this is a bit too early… to make that kind of decision that this is the reflection of the entire council.”
The council’s action comes in the context of work being done by an 11-member community justice response committee (CJRC), to make recommendations on a new jail facility for Monroe County.
Making the decisions on location and size of a new facility will be the county commissioners. As the fiscal body of the county, the county council has to approve the funding.
Serving on the CJRC are three county councilors: Kate Wiltz, Jennifer Crossley, and Peter Iversen.
The reason the CJRC was established in the summer of 2021 is reflected in the title of the document adopted by the council on Tuesday night: “Justice Campus Land: Toward a Constitutionally Sound Jail.”
The committee is making recommendations on how to respond to the work of two consultants, who delivered their studies of Monroe County’s criminal justice system in June 2021.
The RJS report states: “The jail facility is incapable of consistently ensuring and sustaining constitutional levels of inmate care and custody.”
The memo adopted at Tuesday’s meeting had been drafted by councilor Peter Iversen, incorporating feedback from some council colleagues. The four-page document had been distributed at the most recent meeting of the community justice response committee (CJRC).
The current jail was built in 1984 with a bed count of 128. Remodels between then and now put the current number of beds at 287.
Reacting to the council’s Tuesday evening action on Wednesday morning after their regular meeting were county commissioners Julie Thomas and Penny Githens. About the council’s no-more-than 400 number, Thomas said no statement had yet been issued on the number of beds.
But considering the recommendations in the consultant’s study, and all the other information that had been collected, Thomas said 400 beds is “pretty close to what we’re looking at.”
In dissenting, Hawk pointed to the membership of the CJRC, which has been controversial: “I know that there are those who believe that we ought to have some city representatives there.” She continued, “I might just say I believe there ought to be a Republican there—because it’s all Democrats.” Hawk added, “And that’s fine, because that’s who this county elected, but there needs to be more than just one direction.”
Hawk put it like this: “We need to have opinions coming from everywhere, before we can move forward together.”
Iversen’s motion to adopt the memo, and the council’s vote came during report time towards the end of the meeting.
Besides Hawk, some other councilors seemed a bit hesitant to vote on it that night. But Iversen asked his colleagues to take care of it then, because the next CJRC meeting takes place next Monday (April 3), before the council meets again.
Iversen said, “This has been printed and distributed to the CJRC. This has been emailed out to folks.” He summed up the status of the memo like this: “So the cat is essentially out of the bag…And I would ask that we take care of this this evening.”
Councilor Trent Deckard saw the adoption of the memo as demonstrating some sign of progress, in the context of a CJRC that has struggled to find common ground. As he talks to people in the community, Deckard said, they want to see some progress. Deckard said, “People want to see movement, and they want to see good movement, and that people are treated humanely, and beyond humanely, that good things come from that.”
Deckard said the word “compromise” seems to be missing from politics these days. “Discussion of the art of compromise in any sense or fashion—it’s missing at every level. It’s like the word has been deleted, no one can seem to find it.”
Deckard said he’s always for something that seems like it’s going to help make progress. The memo, he said, “ represents a semblance of some of that.”
CJRC member and county councilor Jennifer Crossley said that talking about 400 beds in a jail facility “gives me pause.” Crossley wants to have a clearer understanding of the options for funding a treatment facility.
Councilor Geoff McKim took up the topic of a new jail facility location, which is expressed in the memo like this: “as close to existing services as possible.”
McKim said, “I really think that the evidence comes down on the side that it does have to be very close to existing services.” He continued, “The idea of transporting people out to a rural area is just going to be really, really challenging, for so many different reasons.” McKim added, “I would like us really to continue to do whatever we can, to be as creative as we can, about finding locations inside the city and close to existing services.”
Some specific possibilities inside city limits that were mentioned by McKim included the Hopewell neighborhood—which is the city-controlled former site of the IU Health hospital at 2nd and Rogers streets. About Hopewell, McKim said, “I know the city is not interested, but it sure does make sense with respect to proximity for services.”
McKim added another site that he says he knows lacks crucial support, from the county commissioners—the county-owned Thomson PUD south of Catalent. There are sites near the Trades District that could also be considered creatively, McKim said.
Helping to identify a suitable site will be DLZ, which is the design-build firm selected by county commissioners to masterplan and design the new facility. An 87-acre property in the southwest corner of Bloomington had been identified by commissioners as their preferred location, but in late 2022, the city council denied the requested rezone that would have been needed to build a jail at that location.
County council president Kate Wiltz was comfortable with the way the memo was worded—no more than 400 beds. “I, for one, think 400 is larger than we need, unless we are talking about separate mental health facilities,” Wiltz said. She added, that the new jail facility should be located close to existing services.
The next meeting of the CJRC is set for April 3 at 4:30 p.m.