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Find a different location for the new jail
If the county already owned land zoned for a corrections facility on the east side of Bloomington, we would not be having this conversation at all.
The Monroe County Commissioners have proposed a new jail, which would sit a half mile away from Summit Elementary and RCA Park. Many people in the neighborhood close to the proposed site showed up at a meeting on September 20, concerned about the placement of the corrections facility and the people who would be held there. The city council and mayor's office were invited to this meeting, but none of them bothered to show up.
The most disturbing thing about the proposed site is that it is an "easy" place to locate the jail. County government already owns the land, and the zoning for the land already allows a jail to be built there. The Bloomington City Council rejected a proposed rezone that would have allowed the county to put the jail farther south, near Fullerton Pike. The commissioners claimed at the meeting that city government also rejected a proposal to allow the county to build a jail where Bloomington Hospital once sat. The old hospital is now a field, so putting a jail there would be infill development, and would be much closer to existing county offices.
The Bloomington Police Department wants the jail in the city because BPD transports far more inmates to city than all other law enforcement agencies. If this is the case, then city government should fully cooperate with county government to find a safe, accessible place to put it inside of city limits. The concerns of the BPD should be disregarded if the Bloomington City Council is not willing to cooperate. The BPD might not be happy with that, but the blame for that outcome falls on the city council and the mayor, not the county commissioners or the county council.
It makes no sense that city government would have this authority at all. City government is already restricted in how it regulates state entities, which is why Bloomington city government has little control over what Indiana University does. Land use policy on land owned by county government should be decided by county government, which has its own elected officials. State government should strip city governments of the authority to regulate land use by county governments.
The commissioners' goal is to co-locate departments that deal with criminal justice (including the courts and the jail) into one location. This would cut down on the costs and risk for transporting inmates from the jail to court appearances. The public defender, prosecutor, clerk, sheriff's department and jail would all be located together in one large complex. One of the goals is to put the new facility near existing services and close to a bus route.
All of this is fine, but it seems that the commissioners are more concerned with making sure inmates have access to "services" than they are with the concerns of families who live close to where inmates (including violent criminals) are being held. The danger is not just escapes or accidental releases of dangerous criminals (which is highlighted by the erroneous release of a murder suspect in Indianapolis) but where inmates go once they get out of jail.
What we should not do is allow the conversation about the location of a jail to become a debate about whether we should have a jail at all. That is not a realistic solution. One of the statutory duties of a county sheriff in Indiana Code 36-2-13-5 is to maintain a county jail. We are going to have a jail, so arguments over whether we should have a jail at all are a distraction from the placement of a jail. The question on the table is where the jail should be.
Someone brought this up in public comment, which is inarguable: There is a reason we do not see jails in rich neighborhoods. If the county already owned land zoned for a corrections facility on the east side of Bloomington, we would not be having this conversation at all. The fact that the county commissioners are targeting a working-class neighborhood for the new jail speaks volumes about their political base and their political priorities.
Locating the jail in a neighborhood is a bad decision that does not even accomplish some of the county's goals. It would make much more sense to locate a jail in a rural area, away from neighborhoods, families with children, parks and schools. The commissioners claimed this is not a done deal, but I personally find that hard to believe. The only way county policy changes is if people stop voting to put the same people in office. Two of the three county commissioners and three of the seven county councilors are up for re-election next year. Get out and vote.
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