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COLUMN: New restrictions on releasing parolees to Monroe County are immoral

In a press conference on Feb.1, Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff announced an agreement with Indiana’s Department of Correction that will prevent Indiana parolees who lack ties to Monroe County from being released to the county.

At the press conference, which was devoted to updates on the activities of Bloomington’s Safety, Civility and Justice Task Force, Diekhoff described the verbal commitment he had received from DOC Commissioner Robert Carter about the new policy.

Diekhoff said a parolee will not be released to Monroe County unless their most recent address was in Monroe County or the parolees have ties to the county, such as family.

The reason for this change, according to Diekhoff, is that many parolees who are not from Monroe County currently choose to be released here because of Bloomington’s superior public services and programs to support homeless people.

“A lot of people started picking Bloomington to be released to, to take advantage of the services that were here,” Diekhoff said.

I believe this is an immoral premise, that it is better to spread needy people throughout the state than let them gravitate toward the areas with the most social services.

It is inevitable parolees, who often have no place to go after being isolated from society for years, will choose to go to cities with homeless shelters, addiction treatment, community kitchens and other social safety nets.

While Bloomington could certainly have more social services, it has earned a reputation for having more than other cities and towns in Indiana.

Simply scattering parolees around the state is not a solution. It’s just a way of relocating the problem.

Mayor John Hamilton echoed Diekhoff’s position, saying many parolees released to Monroe County without ties to the area were unsuccessful participants in the parole process.

“Many of them were homeless. They had no connections. That was not a path to get successful release from prison into a new life,” said Hamilton

Assuming Hamilton is correct when he claims parolees in Monroe County without ties to the area are less successful than average at reintegrating into society, he is mistaking the cause of this phenomenon.

Obviously homeless parolees without any family to take them in are going to have a harder-than-average time reintegrating, no matter where they go. 

The policy reflects a growing trend in Bloomington. Rather than addressing the root causes of homelessness, the city government is putting homeless people out of sight and making them someone else’s responsibility. 

Many of the actions taken toward that goal, such as anti-panhandling measures and the increased police presence around Peoples Park, were touted during Thursday’s press conference.

Ideally, every county in Indiana would provide stellar social services and Bloomington wouldn’t have to shoulder extra responsibility. But closing our doors to disadvantaged people in the absence of such a reality is completely wrong.

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