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Thursday, June 13
The Indiana Daily Student

politics

Sheriff's Office says improvements, cultural change made to Monroe County jail

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Monroe County Sheriff Ruben Marté shared how his department has improved the infrastructure, cleanliness and culture of the county correctional center during the Monroe County Council’s first meeting of the year Tuesday.  

Tuesday’s meeting marks almost one year since Marté presented a series of photos detailing the jail’s deteriorating infrastructure to the Community Justice Response Committee in January 2023. During this presentation, Marté, who was elected in November 2022, shared that some inmates were using cups as pillows and the building was covered in mold, rust and graffiti. His presentation followed the release of a report in 2021 in which two consultants stated the facility, built in 1986, had exceeded its structural life cycle and was failing to uphold inmates' constitutional rights.  

Since sharing the correction center’s conditions with government officials last January, Marté said the Sheriff’s Office has focused on cleaning the facility and replacing old furniture and appliances to improve inmate living arrangements. During Tuesday’s meeting, Kyle Gibbons, jail commander for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, showed councilmembers several before and after photos demonstrating the improvement in cleanliness, including photos of an inmate’s room that had been cleared of graffiti and dirt.  

The Sheriff’s Office has also fixed its roof —which had been susceptible to leaking — along with the jail’s control room, convection oven and laundry room. The department removed mold from the ceilings in several inmate’s rooms as well.  

“That changes the mentality of the people who are housed there, the mentality of the people who are working there, the people who come in and work with our inmate population,” Gibbons said.  

Officials said some members of the inmate worker population volunteered to help clean and maintain the facility. According to the consultant’s 2021 report, the inmate workers are separate from the general inmate population in the jail. 

Phil Parker, the Monroe County Sherriff’s Office chief deputy, said while county officials have received consistent updates on the infrastructure conditions of the jail, he wanted to take Tuesday’s meeting as an opportunity to share how the department has recently tried to tackle issues of morale and relationships between jail staff and inmates.  

“It became apparent to us that it wasn’t just the facility — there were other issues that we needed to address,” Parker said. “Those became more of a cultural change, if you will.”  

One way the department hoped to achieve this cultural change was by painting a mural at the entrance of the correction center. Gibbons said Bloomington resident Adam Long painted a mural displaying the word “Hope” overlaying a mountain scene. 

“Inmates, law enforcement, anybody that comes through that south door is going to be greeted by that cultural change,” Gibbons said.  

Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office launched a new program this past year to teach female inmates — who make up 33 of the 220 total inmates — how to garden.  

Councilmember Jennifer Crossley, who served as the council’s liaison to the jail in 2023, said she remembered Marté’s presentation from last January and was impressed with how much progress the Sheriff’s Office has made in one year. She also encouraged the department to continue offering programming for female inmates. 

Marté said the jail has been fully staffed for almost two months, and there is even a waitlist to join the staff. By comparison, the Bloomington Police Department reported last fall they were understaffed by 21 officers.  

Councilmember Trent Deckard, who the council elected as its president Tuesday night, thanked Marté for his work. 

“I have watched federal government, state government, local government nearly all my life — I don’t think I’ve seen anything move that quick in my career,” Deckard said. “I am just blown away by that." 

County officials are looking to build a new jail 

While improvements continue at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Correctional Center at 301 N. College Ave., county officials are also pushing for the construction of a new jail at a different location. 

Although commissioners have discussed building on several properties, county government officials have not yet selected a site for construction.  

In November, the Monroe County Commissioners amended their American Rescue Plan Act fund to appropriate $110,000 per year, for three years, to fund the contract of a jail transition director. This jail director will help the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office transition their operations from the current jail located on College Avenue to a new facility. 

The American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress enacted in 2021, provided $350 billion in COVID-19 relief funds to cities and counties across the country. Monroe County received more than $28 million in relief funds, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

According to county ordinance no. 2021-19, the Monroe County Council must appropriate all ARPA funds. The Monroe County Commissioners can approve the expenditure of these funds after the county council’s appropriation. 

While the Monroe County Councilmembers unanimously voted to appropriate this money toward the jail transition director contract, several county commissioners expressed during their meeting Nov. 29, 2023, that someone already working in the Monroe County Sheriff's Office would be best suited for the position. However, Marté did not want Parker or Gibbons to fill the role, stating that they do not have the extra time to direct the transition. 

Even without the county councilmembers or commissioners’ approval, Marté can still sign contracts concerning the jail and its inmates as long as he spends funds within the approved budget. 

The Sheriff’s Office announced Cory Grass, a former Bloomington Police Department officer and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent, will serve as the new jail transition director during a Monroe County Council regular meeting Dec. 12, 2023. Grass is a Monroe County native and has served as an officer with BPD and the IU Police Department. Grass is also the Chief Operations Officer for Apex Solutions Group, a security, threat assessment and response training consulting group.  

County commissioners are expected to select a construction site for the new jail in the first quarter of 2024, according to BSquare Bulletin. 

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