Movement, but no progress yet, on site selection for new Monroe County jail

A significant bit of news out of Monday’s meeting of the community justice response committee (CJRC) was an announcement from the public mic by Bloomington’s public engagement director Kaisa Goodman.

Goodman told the committee that a tour of some county-owned land south of Catalent had been arranged for later in the week.

Touring the property, which some see as a viable site for a new jail, will be Goodman, Bloomington’s corporation counsel Beth Cate, Bloomington planning director Scott Robinson, county attorney Jeff Cockerill, jail commander Kyle Gibbons, county councilor Kate Wiltz, and possibly one other county council member.

The location of a new jail has been a wide open question since December 2022, when 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 the new jail.

The site south of Catalent, also known as the Thomson PUD, has been frequently mentioned as a possible alternative—it’s not downtown but is closer to services and is better served by public transit. County commissioners are cool to the idea, because they have reserved the acreage for the pharmaceutical company’s possible southward expansion, among other reasons.

Despite the scheduled tour, it’s an overstatement to say that any momentum is building towards the choice of that site or any site as a new jail location.

During Monday’s CJRC meeting, county commissioner Julie Thomas indicated that the land south of Catalent is not yet one of the four sites that DLZ, the selected jail design firm, will be asked to evaluate.

A separate $10,000 contract with DLZ was approved by commissioners at their March 22 meeting to evaluate the viability of up to four sites as a new jail location.  Thomas confirmed to The B Square after Monday’s meeting that none of the four sites to be evaluated by DLZ has yet been identified by commissioners.

The committee is working to make 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.”

Despite the planned tour of the Thomson PUD later this week, many observers and CJRC members themselves remain frustrated by the lack of progress by the committee.

CJRC member and Monroe County circuit court judge Darcie Fawcett put it like this at Monday’s meeting: “We’re consistently coming back with the same question: What’s the budget? We don’t know. How many beds? We don’t know. Where are we doing it? We don’t know.”

On Monday, deputy prosecutor and CJRC member April Wilson asked DLZ’s Scott Carnegie about the exact budget he’d been given for the jail, but he said no specific dollar amount had been cited.

Carnegie and his colleague Eric Ratts were the featured guests at the meeting. They were there to give a version of DLZ’s response to the county’s request for qualifications (RFQ) that led to the firm’s selection.

The interviews with the three RFQ respondents has been the source of controversy, because they were not held at public meetings. In addition, the score sheets used by the evaluating committee were apparently destroyed and recreated.

From the public mic on Monday, Kay Weinberg, with the group Care Not Cages, read aloud parts of an open letter  about the RFQ process. The specific points of contention were daylighted in an email message sent by sheriff Ruben Marté to CJRC members on April 3 and aired out in a subsequent contentious county commissioners work session.

Members of Care Not Cages held up a banner during the meeting with the question: “What are you hiding?” A formal complaint has been filed with Indiana’s public access counselor about the RFQ interview process.

It was the presence of representatives from DLZ that led Monroe County councilor Peter Iversen at one point to call Monday’s meeting “pretty momentous.”

Iversen was chairing the meeting, because county commissioner Penny Githens was under the weather and attending the meeting via Zoom.

It was towards the end of Monday’s meeting when Iversen noted the “momentous” character of the meeting. He continued saying, “I want to make sure that all voices are heard. So with the fact that we do have city representatives in the audience, I wanted to give a moment to see if there’s any questions from our colleagues in the city.”

Iversen’s invitation came well after public commentary time, when Bloomington’s public engagement director Kaisa Goodman had delivered the news about the Thomson PUD site tour.

Iversen’s move to invite city representatives to the table, at a time other than public comment, can be seen as a nod to the complaint that’s been made by many over the last several months—that the county commissioners did not appoint any city representatives to the CJRC.

Given the extra turn at the table, city councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith asked if DLZ would be directly handling the public engagement process for the new jail design. DLZ’s Scott Carnegie indicated that his firm could handle that, but would work under the direction of the county commissioners.

Piedmont-Smith also wanted to know if the Bloomington police department would be included in the design process. County commissioner Julie Thomas gave that question a one-word answer: Yes.

In her additional time, Goodman questioned whether it is possible to determine the size of the jail that’s needed, before the impact of prevention work has been studied.

5 thoughts on “Movement, but no progress yet, on site selection for new Monroe County jail

  1. Wouldn’t the old hospital have been a choice location and easily changed over to accommodate needed facilities just my humble opinion ,Maybe it could be a good location for the new facility !

  2. Isn’t this the same site that Switchyard Brewing was initially going use for a new brewpub at one time? If memory serves, they said it had poor drainage and there were other issues the city was not prepared to address at that time.

    1. No, I believe Switchyard was going to build on a lot north of Hillside on Rogers. The county owns a large swath of land that does border Rogers for a short distance, south of the electric station and north of Cherokee Drive, but most of the land is north of RCA Park and south of Catalent.

  3. Please start over. Use a qualified strategic planner who can begin with purpose, goals, and plans. Nothing should last this long

  4. i’m just gonna copy and paste this transcription someone posted on reddit. i hope it’s accurate:

    April Wilson (deputy prosecutor): … i was wondering if we could know a little bit more about what those sites were, that the commissioners are considering?

    Julie Thomas (county commissioner): we’re not going to announce potential sites at this time. i will just say that we have more than a dozen mapped out for preliminary – we haven’t even begun the preliminary review yet, and we’re going to work with council [ed: or counsel?] on that. so. we will know as soon as we can.

    April Wilson: if i heard it correctly, you’re going to work with county council to pick one of those sites. i hear it as in, it’s not going to be something further discussed at CJRC. but i was wondering, is that conversation about those sites, is that going to be a public meeting? and if so, could we get notice in those of us at the committee, or those of us within the community who’d like to attend those meetings will be better informed?

    Julie Thomas: we can discuss this later, but we’ve been advised by our attorney that the process of selecting – and we’re also going to rely on DLZ to assist, it’s not just us doing it – we’re going to use their insight to help move to the point where we have a smaller group of sites. but, according to mister [attorney] Cockerill’s advice, is that, you don’t engage in a discussion of potential sites to purchase vis-a-vie real estate at a public setting. we’ve never done it before. and if you think about it, there’s a good reason to not do that. but at every juncture possible, we intend to be very public and very transparent about where things are at in the process. all i can really say right now.

    i really am glad to hear a lot of the community ideas like using the Hopewell (old hospital) land, or the convention center land, or so on. i know there are considerations, i’m personally convinced the Hopewell site isn’t a good idea because so much work has already gone into another use. but, for example, the convention center project has been stalled for years and the city and county each separately own more land than is needed for the whole project…that seems really realistic to me. nothing to lose.

    i hope that this behind-closed-doors process with the commissioners isn’t ruling out any of these possibilities. if they’re only looking at giant empty parcels out in the boonies, it would really not reflect the desires i’ve seen again and again from citizens. i really thought the whole point of the CJRC process was to have important decisions like the site selection take place in public. call me jaded but i’m 99% certain that in some weeks or months, the commissioners and DLZ will jointly announce the final site selection and it’ll be an awful site and it’ll be too late to change anything about it, and they’ll brag that this site is the best site because of their extremely open public process. barf.

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