I’m excited that some of Decarcerate Monroe County’s ideas have become projected into the mainstream media, like this from a July 26 Herald Times op-ed:

Some of his numbers also should give pause to our criminal justice hierarchy. Why is it that while incarceration rates have gone up nationwideby 38 percent from 1994 to 2007, the rate here has gone up 53 percent? And why is it that fully 87 percent of the jail’s inmates haven’t been convictedof anything but are simply awaiting trial?



SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 3:00-6:00 p.m.


Childcare will be provided

Decarcerate Monroe County (DMC), with the encouragement of Citizens for Effective Justice, UU Friends of Prisoners Task Force, and New Leaf/New Life, is pleased to invite you to a community update and discussion on Monroe County’s plan to expand incarceration. Please come to share information and personal stories about incarceration, coordinate efforts to fight the expansion, and begin developing effective, long-term strategies and proposals to reduce incarceration!


In the fall of 2008, the Monroe County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (MCCJCC) held a series of meetings ostensibly to solicit public input regarding the proposal to construct new criminal justice facilities, including a new youth lockup, to replace the current jail. The meetings gave criminal justice personnel opportunities to present their assessment of the current situation and to make their arguments in favor of the County’s plan for expansion. The final meeting offered a platform for the presentation of construction plans by the Noblesville-based design and construction contractor PMSI, Project Management Solutions Incorporated. Despite overwhelming opposition expressed in public comments, County officials seem to have emerged from the meetings with continued determination to pursue the expansion plan.


As an alternative and follow-up to this series of meetings, Decarcerate Monroe County has called a genuine public forum for Saturday, January 31st, in the Great Hall of Trinity Church. This afternoon will offer information, facilitate a broad-ranging public conversation, and plan continued active response. People should bring their experiences and ideas to contribute to working out practical solutions to the problems the jail purports to solve but actually only worsens.


Decarcerate Monroe County is an open coalition that works to challenge the belief that cages, coercion, and confinement keep our community safe. DMC believes that people are safe when they have their basic needs met and when they feel empowered and free. DMC works to build access to meaningful, non-coercive options for dealing with problems and resolving conflict. We resist expansion of incarceration, including the proposed adult and youth jails; we support shrinking the existing punitive justice system in Monroe County.

While the group calling the meeting is explicitly against jail expansion, the Community Meeting will welcome the broadest array of opinions — please come and let’s all work together to make Monroe County a safer and more just place!

election reflection

I want to try to draw some cohesive analysis from the election results, but it’s so difficult.  I’m just going to post some things that come across my radar that I responded to.

Folks talking about voting for McKinney/Clemente made me think long and hard about third party candidates.  I was so sick of hearing people talk about how Green Party voters were spoilers in the 2000 election, and am glad that I felt good about a major party candidate this time around.  Still, it leaves me asking, would it be better to have a presdent whose ideas I feel better about, or a president whose ideas I can largely identify with (though strongly disagree with also) and lots of other people can feel secure and energized by, thus creating a different context to the work I want to do to see the world change towards a more just place?

Lots of people who aren’t in the U.S. seem stoked about the Obama victory.  Chiara’s mom stayed up late across time zones to follow the election and was  excited at the end.  I saw this message on a community informatics mailing list that I subscribe to:

I want to try to draw some cohesive analysis from the election results, but it’s so difficult.  I’m just going to post some things that come across my radar that I responded to.

Folks talking about voting for McKinney/Clemente made me think long and hard about third party candidates.  I was so sick of hearing people talk about how Green Party voters were spoilers in the 2000 election, and am glad that I felt good about a major party candidate this time around.  Still, it leaves me asking, would it be better to have a presdent whose ideas I feel better about, or a president whose ideas I can largely identify with (though strongly disagree with also) and lots of other people can feel secure and energized by, thus creating a different context to the work I want to do to see the world change towards a more just place?

Lots of people who aren’t in the U.S. seem stoked about the Obama victory.  Chiara’s mom stayed up late across time zones to follow the election and was  excited at the end.  I saw this message on a community informatics mailing list that I subscribe to:

Dear Global colleagues

This is an excellent idea. Obama is no more just the President of America. He is the nucleus of hopes for the global citizens. I feel he can give a very nice shape to the whole world – a place for living for everybody. Technology has has brought the globe on his palm and he
will surely utilize his knowledge, wisedom, talents, expertise, experience and skills for the people of the world (who love him)
irrespetive of sex, race and color.

We also enjoyed the election from here in-Bangladesh in south Asia. We expect that Obama will create a better and peaceful world forcus.


I too am excited that a U.S. leader is talking about global cooperation and collaboration and support instead of  just confrontation.  We’ve seen capital become globalized, maybe there’s hope for globalized accountability.

Finally, the local elections  have implications too.  Lauren Taylor wrote this about the implications of the county government races for the proposed new jail:

So in case y’all didn’t hear or see it already, the Democrats swept
the local elections, with more than a little help from Obama
supporters who turned out in record numbers. In relation to the jail
and juvenile facility issues, that means that:

County Commissioners (the three person triumvirate that serves as the
executive branch of the county, implements policy)
Two of the three commissioner seats were up for election, the third
seat stays with Republican Pat Stoffers (R).
– Iris Kiesling (D) is a big supporter of a new jail and juvenile
facility. She was re-elected with 61.4% of the vote.
– and Mark Stoops (D) opposes the expansion of the jail though
supports a juvenile treatment facility. Won with 62% of the vote.

County Council (holds the purse, decides whether or not to fund things)
Three at large seats were up for grabs. There are seven total council
members at any given time.
– Julie Thomas (D) got the most votes, and will join the council. She
opposes the jail and supports a juvenile treatment facility.
– Warren Henegar (D) was second, and was re-elected to the county
council. He supports both the jail and juvenile facility.
– Geoff McKim (D) was third, and will also join the council. He
conditionally supports the jail – wants only more space for
programming and improved conditions, NOT for more beds. Also supports
a juvenile facility.

so yeah, best possible results from local elections, i believe.


H-T coverage of juvenile justice forum

I don’t have the time or energy right now to process yesterday’s community meeting on the building of the county juvenile facility.  I learned a lot, was pretty disheartened, and realized, more than anything, that perceptions and realities of limited resources force people with similar interests and goals to become adversaries.  This is how the local paper covered the event.


To clarify my position, I feel that the current Youth Services Bureau should not be relocated or its services replicated on the site of any secure detention facility (adult or juvenile).  I also feel like the current dual role of the YSB as a safe space and as a place where youth are sent by schools, police, courts, or parents is problematic.  There needs to be seperate spaces and adequate funding and staff for both roles.   Ultimately, neither should be on the same site or share staff with any kind of secure detention facility.  Furthermore,  our community needs to expand existing, and develop new  recreational, cultural, counseling, therapeutic, and healthcare opportunities that are youth-initiated, youth-feedback-responsive and voluntary to all the youth of the county.  We must respond to the needs and desires of youth before entering the juvenile justice system, during supervision, and after supervsion, as well as the needs of youth who do not come into contact with the justice system or other services at all.  The proposal of a justice campus would effectively lock much-needed resources and oppotunities for programs behind bars.


Juveniles focus of first meeting on justice issues
Reasons for, against building local juvenile center discussed

By Bethany Nolan 331-4373 | bnolan@heraldt.com
October 17, 2008

Reducing the number of repeat offenders, expanding the range of sanctions available to local justice officials and centralizing services have been identified as “guiding principles” for Monroe County as it looks toward building its own juvenile center.

That’s what members of the public learned at the first of four public forums related to potential construction of new criminal justice facilities, hosted by the Monroe County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and Noblesville-based consulting firm PSMI Inc. The county commissioners hired the consulting firm back in April to develop facility, site space and operations programs for a new jail, sheriff’s office and juvenile center, plus help identify capital and operating costs and choose contractor, architectural and vendor services.

Other meetings will be held in the upcoming weeks that will focus on a jail and community corrections and work release programs. After those, consultant Bill Shepler said the firm will present the commissioners with a master plan.

Monroe Circuit Judge Steve Galvin — who handles juvenile cases — pointed out he’s sat in on 20 years’ worth of discussions about a juvenile center, and said Monroe County is the only one of the state’s 15 largest counties that doesn’t have its own facility.

“We have to do it,” he said of constructing a center. “It is our duty. It is our responsibility.”

He said the county spends about $1.4 million annually on both the Youth Services Bureau — which has a shelter and provides other services to young people — and to house local juveniles in secure detention at other facilities throughout the state. On any day throughout the year, approximately seven local youths are in secure detention and between 10 and 12 are in shelter care, he said.

Youth Services Bureau director Ron Thompson said he’s not so sure about a new facility, pointing out his current programs are underfunded and wondering if local officials would do the same in the future. He also wondered if his facility would be rendered moot by a new juvenile center. Galvin replied he’d like to leave the current shelter as is, but admitted it could be difficult to fund both.

Geoff Hing, with newly organized advocacy group Decarcerate Monroe County, said the county’s Safe Place site shouldn’t be at the same place as troubled youth, as it is now with the youth shelter. Others spoke about their concern of a “kiddie jail,” arguing that locking up troubled kids isn’t going to help anything, while others pointed out locating youth services next to an adult prison could send a troubling message.

“It’s never been our intention to have a youth jail here, but rather a part of a continuum of care,” Monroe Circuit Judge Kenneth Todd said. “We’re not about incarcerating kids.”

The idea for a justice campus and a corrections campus took root last October, when the plan was backed by all three county commissioners, the sheriff, five of the seven members of the county council and the county’s board of judges.

The project calls for building a new county jail, sheriff’s office and juvenile center on 85 acres off South Rogers Street. The county already owns the site, but it has no infrastructure.

After the new facilities are built, the plan calls for renovating the Justice Building — which houses the jail on its top floors — to make more space for courts and other county offices there.


Questions/demands for juvenile detention center in Bloomington

This is a sketch of my thoughts on the at-this-time-ambiguous proposal for a juvenile detention center in Monroe County in preparation for the public meeting about this on Thursday.  I’ve organized my thoughts in terms of questions and demands.

QUESTION: Is building our own facility the best way to keep our youth close to their families and communities?  I think that there is a community consensus that we want to keep youth from being sent out of the county for incarceration and that we want to make sure that youth who enter the juvenile justice system get the support that they need to have agency in their lives and to avoid further incarceration.  I question whether incarcerating youth  in the county is the best way to do this.  I believe that if we set the right goals as a community; collectively engage youth, families, the schools, and the community-at-large; develop programs and a culture that empowers and supports youth (even those facing challenges with mental health, addiction, and poverty) we can eliminate youth entering the justice system altogether and not just keep them incarcerated in their community, but have them be recognized as the leaders and contributors that so many have the potential to be (and already are).

DEMAND: The Monroe County community needs to discuss a concrete proposal for a juvenile center, not agree that we will build one and then debate what it will look like.

DEMAND: We  need to include youth, particularly youth who have been in the juvenile justce system in the planning and decision making.  They are experts about the system and what has worked or failed or been deeply problematic with other facilities.

DEMAND: Just because we’re proposing building a center in Monroe County doesn’t mean it will automatically avoid the problems of other facilities.  We need to first understand why there were failures or abuses at other facilities and concretely explain how Monroe County would be able to avoid them.  Our track record with the jail has been less than stellar and we must be able to demonstrate a commitment to youth of the county that does far better before we even talk about building a youth facility.

DEMAND: The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) should not be on the same site or share staff with a juvenile detention center.  The YSB already has the difficult role of being both a refuge for youth escaping violence or homelessness and youth who are sent their as a disciplinary measure.  The YSB needs to have a strong, separate identity from the juvenile justice system.  Even now, the perception that the YSB is a punitive space makes some youth seeking safer spaces avoid using the YSB’s resources.

DEMAND: A youth facility will not take youth from distant counties.  One of the reasons for building a facility in this county that has been most vocally expressed has been the issue of sending youth far away from their families and communities.  Doing this to youth from other counties only displaces the problem, it doesn’t solve it.

QUESTION: What kind of treatment programs will te facility offer?  Who will provide them?

QUESTION:  Why are we tying up programming with the juvenile justice system?  Many of the programs that have been alluded to do not exist for youth in Monroe County, period.  For instance, a high-quality, empowerment-modeled,  substance abuse program that is partially developed by youth and that is accessible for low-income youth does not exist in the county.  This is something that would be of great use to youth both inside and outside of the juvenile justice system.  By making it only available to incarcerated youth, we are reinforcing the idea that such programs are about punishment instead of healing and empowerment.

QUESTION: Why are youth being sent out of the county to be incarcerated?  We need to know why this is happening so we can fully explore our options.  For instance, are youth being sent to facilities for serious drug addiction issues, or have they just gotten caught using drugs in a way that is prevelent with youth as a whole?  In the latter case, this speaks more to the need to cultivate cultural alternatives to drug use in our community than to incarcerated youth.  Are they being sent away for the sale of drugs?  This speaks more to changing the economic reality and employment prospects for youth than for further incarceration.

Reading across the lines

The book group I’m facilitating at the county jail met again this past week, interrupting an Uno game going on in the common area of the cell block.  I had just played a game of Uno that afternoon, sprawled out across a post-picnic blanket on a grassy patch just above the lake.  Kids splashed below in the warm water, teenage girls lounged allofly in inflatable furniture, and in the distance, people careened back and forth across the wake of motorboats.  This is one of the things that is the most difficult about going into the jail – things that are completely familiar to me, like the Uno game, in a context that is completely different to my everyday reality.  Actually going into the jail has made me realize the boundary between solidarity and being in the same boat.  I think everything that I’ve encountered about jails and prisons firmly establish where you stand.  You are a guard, you are incarcerated, you are incarcerated and in the “therepeutic” block, you are in solitary, you are in the general population, you are a family member or friend here for visiting hours, you are a volunteer.  The roles, the mobility associated with each, and the expectations of each group by the others seem hard and rigid, ruts torn deeper and deeper with all the inertia of the prison industrial complex.  I want to just think that I’m just down, but even going in with the interest of supporting incarcerated folks is mediated by the fact, told bluntly by the corrections officer who did the volunteer training, that my ability to go in is largely based on the realization that programming in the jail tends to placate the incarcerated population there.

The reading group happens in the block and has a variable number of participants.  This is affected by what people have going on at the moment and the fact that people are constantly coming in and out of the jail, coming from a DOC facility for court or returning to a DOC facility after court.  This week, only 4 folks sat down at the table, with only 1 of them having read the book to be discussed.  The book might have been part of the problem.  A few weeks ago we had decided to read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, a travel account of two middle-aged men who decide to hike part of the Appalachian Trail.  It was funny enough, and met the criteria that was established by those initially interested in the group, of having a subject that seemed to be far, far from the reality of incarceration and didn’t have the self-help twelve-steppy overtones that mark some of the other programming they participate in.  Still, a few folks expressed that they couldn’t get into the book.  My favorite response to the book that I heard was one word – “quitters”, as the protagonists seemed to spend as many nights sleeping in hotels and eating at diners as they did in the woods.  As I read through the book myself, I was a little worried that the book centered on this activity that represented an idleness and mobility; to spend weeks just hiking without worrying about jobs, families, or the things that a lot of the things that people in the jail talk to me about as concerns; that it would seem just insensitive.  Still, it’s unfair and just not true to make assumptions about people’s situations or their reactions in the context of their lives.

So what is my place here in the jail?  Reading, for all the reasons that anyone loves it, with the additional weight of it being an activity that can happen, relatively unhindered, even within the constraints of incarceration, seems to be an important part of people’s lives at the jail.  People talk about the books that they read, and pass them around.  I remember a conversation starting with “Remember that Marilyn Manson biography …”, the book having apparenly made its rounds through the block.  There’s no question that books are important to people in jail.  Having someone come in to facilitate a discussion group about books seems of more questionable value. For the men in the cell block where the programming happens, their days are filled with different groups, many of them focussed around rehabilitation, I think that one more structured activity that involves a group and a discussion just doesn’t seem that appealing.  Volunteering in the jail, there seems to be such an impasse between what corrections officials and non-profits think people who are incacerated need and what people who are incarcerated say they need.  I think that more than anything, people need to not be incarcerated, because dealing with all the other things in life become frustratingly cumbersome to impossible.  Beyond that I think the concerns of incarcerated people are the same as a lot of people that I know, obviously with varying degrees of severity: economic security, a safe, comfortable place to live, help sorting out relationships and family.  Those are such large, ambiguous things, but it’s the way I can most accurately express it.

I like going into the jail because it has made me have to reevaluate how I think about other people and about prison issues as “issues”.  But, even though I feel like I’m getting something out of my volunteer work, the exchange doesn’t exactly seem equal.  One of the men interested in the reading group said he would talk to others in the block to guage the actual interest and to get some input about what format would be best.  We talked about two things that would be an improvement – meeting once a month instead of biweekly and reading shorter works of fiction.  One thing that seems like something that I can really offer is just giving people access to books.  The Monroe County Public Library has a sweet jail library program, but the men I work with said that while they used to get to go to the library once every two weeks, they now can only go once every 4 or 5 weeks.

I’ve also sporadically tutoring math in the jail, and had been working with someone who just passed his GED exams.  Working in this capacity seems like I can offer people something of myself that seems more useful, but it’s still hard.  The person who just passed his GED said that one of the reasons he wanted to get his GED was so he could go into the armed forces when he was released.  I don’t want to see anyone join the armed forces, but I’m afraid that, facing the realities of the current economy, and the additional challenges that someone with a criminal record faces getting a job, the options are limited.  It’s so frustrating that I, and the things I believe in, can’t offer an alternative.  This makes me feel like I’m not in a position to do what people really need.  I can give people books, or some tricks to solving math problems, but I can’t give people jobs or build houses.  It makes me feel like I’m not doing the right thing. Everyone, and I mean everyone everyone and not just incarceration people, need inspiration and tools, to be sure, but it seems really narrow sighted to think that they’re enough.

Jail Book Group

I’m trying to be better about posting what I’ve been doing lately.  Last night, the book group I’m facilitating through Pages and New Leaf New Life in the “therapeutic” block of the local jail met for the second time and we picked the book that we’re going to read, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.  We did a rough vote and there wasn’t an overwhelming consensus so I’m going to bring in a few copies of the other books that I brought up as options including Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, and The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman.

Doing the group is challenging.  Some people are extroverted and seem to love to talk about themselves and their experiences.  Some are the exact opposite.  I feel like we’re also fighting the difficult dynamic of being a “group” amidst a lot of other mandatory groups that the men have to go through all day.  I think, at the end of the day, some just aren’t feeling another group.  People in the block are respectful and quiet, but the whole jail is noisy.  There are lots of interruptions like meds and the church group that comes in to provide worship services without notices.  I’m still getting my balance as a facilitator and trying to make it more clear why I’m there and what I’m doing and try to get past the reasonable distrust that some of the guys have for people like me.

In spite of all the challenges, we had a short discussion about a piece of writing titled The Best Time in My Life and many shared a memory or description of places and eras that they had seen pass.  For some it was rock quarries in southern Indiana, for another being towed around on an old car hood in his tiny hometown, and for another it was the closure of a vital youth center in his Chicago neighborhood.

A New Jail?!: Exploring Alternatives to Incarceration in Monroe County

May 3 Jail Education Banner
Saturday, May 3, 2008
A New Jail?!: Exploring Alternatives to Incarceration in Monroe County

Events At:

Boxcar Books
310A S. Washington St.
Bloomington, IN 47401
(812) 339-8710


The Cinemat
123 S. Walnut St.
(812) 333-4700
Bloomington, IN 47401

A day of popular education that will explore alternatives to the current proposal of building new adult and youth jails in Bloomington. Through interactive workshops featuring community members, non-profits, experienced activists, and YOU, we will explore: What is the history of incarceration in Monroe County? What are some existing community alternatives to incarceration in Bloomington and other parts of the country? What have successful campaigns to challenge other jail constructions looked like? Several workshops will offer education, training, and networking opportunities for local folks questioning the need for new jails. The day’s events will culminate with special guest speaker Kai Barrow from Critical Resistance. This is an open event, with people from all backgrounds and political beliefs encouraged to attend.

Workshop One- 11:00 am, Boxcar Books
A discussion and Presentation on the History of the Monroe County Jail System

This workshop will begin with an interview from Indiana University Criminal Justice Department faculty member, Hal Pepinsky. Following the interview will be a facilitated discussion on the history of the jail, encouraging input from community members in piecing together the jail’s history and the sharing of personal and familial experiences with the jail.

Workshop Two- 2:00 pm, Boxcar Books
A Panel Discussion on Alternatives to Incarceration

This workshop will explore community alternatives to incarceration in Bloomington, as well as highlight successful initiatives from around the country. Representatives from different organizations will speak briefly about how their work keeps people out of jail by offering positive responses to poverty, homelessness, hunger, and conflict that enrich and restore community. Workshop attendees will be able to offer their own perspectives on what makes a community safe and whole.

Film Screening- 4:00 pm, The Cinemat
Yes, In My Backyard, A documentary by Tracy Huling

Financially-strapped communities are now begging for prisons to be built in their backyards. With plundering agribusiness, military-base closings and major industry relocation, incarceration is seen as the salvation of rural communities. Through the eyes of one farming-community-turned-prison-town, this hour documentary explores the increasing and multi-layered dependence of rural America on prison industries and subtly probes the profound implications of this dependence for both the keepers and the kept, and for our society’s understanding of and response to crime.

Workshop Three- 6:00 pm, Boxcar Books
Potluck Dinner and Discussion with Kai Barrow from Critical Resistance

Kai Barrow, one of five paid staff persons for Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization committed to ending society’s use of prisons and policing as an answer to social problems, will lead a discussion

For more press, interview, or further contact information, please use information below:

Judah Schept
(812) 219-3611

Download a flyer for this event (PDF)

Jail Resistence in Bloomington

Some folks have started organizing to plan resistance to plans to organize against a proposed “justice campus” in Bloomington that would include a new, larger jail (as the jail is notoriously overcrowded and there is a federal lawsuit about conditions in the jail), a juvenile “treatment” facility (as youth from Monroe County who are sentenced to one of these facilities have to be sent out of county), and court and administrative facilities (to make transport of inmates between the jail and the courts (and other services?) easier).  Ideologically, I am opposed to the expansion of the number of incarcerated people and a sad reality in most communities is that larger prisons and jails are quickly filled (either by sentencing or by the moving of inmates to take advantage of available space or recover costs), but there needs to be some remediation of the conditions at the existing jail for the inmates and the Federal lawsuit may require some kind of action in the end.

So, I don’t want to frame this issue solely in terms of supporting or opposing jail construction.  If I oppose the jail construction and lose on this and don’t manage to push for increased programming and services for people in the jail and the community at large or assurances that the capacity of the jail will not be used to import people from elsewhere, this is a failure.  Similarly, calls for increased support of social services, to end injustices that are connected with incarceration, and to change the court system or make other changes to incarcerate fewer people are not dependent on jail construction either way.  These things need to be part of the dialog and I think it will be a failure if focusing on jail construction as the sole issue means there isn’t space for talking about things.

My personal goals when it comes to this issue are:

  • Empower incarcerated people, their friends and family to have a central role in the dialog and policy shaping of the jail and criminal justice in Monroe County
  • Include the voice of youth in the dialog about juvenile justice facilities
  • Accurately depict the reasons that people are incarcerated in Monroe County and explode the cultural mythologies of crime and incarceration
  • Explore alternatives to incarceration in Monroe County and move towards expanding and implementing them
  • Address prejudices and stigma about crime, “criminals”, and incarceration
  • Connect issues of economic and racial privilege in Monroe County, support (or lack there of) for social services or grassroots community-based support, and development policies and paradigms with incarceration

Ideally, achieving these things would result in a decision to not expand the jail or build a juvenile facility.  However,  because I see these things as important, I wouldn’t see the defeat of the jail proposal on fiscal grounds (as is the position of many Republican county government officials/candidates) as a victory because it would be likely that there would community support or support from the county officials who rejected jail construction for the things I mentioned above.