PMSI, Inc., the Noblesville company the county has contracted to study and plan a "justice campus," has released its final report. Among the proposals is an expanded adult jail with a capacity of at least 400 prisoners with room to expand by another 400, and a 72 bed juvenile facility, also with room to expand.

In total, PMSI anticipates the cost to be between $64 million and $78 million.

Decarcerate Monroe County (DMC), a coalition of residents resisting jail expansion, encourages the community to reject PMSI and its proposal. Our opposition is based both on the lack of process in which PMSI has engaged and the actual content of what they propose.

"Building the justice campus would cement Monroe County's place on the wrong side of history."

According to our Mission Statement, Decarcerate Monroe County "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."

Lack of consensus

While we believe that this community needs to "decarcerate," that is, to stop investing in jails, we understand and appreciate that this is a complex issue and we invite discussion. As evidenced by the four meetings organized by the Monroe County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (MCCJCC) in the Fall 2008, as well as community meetings organized by DMC, there is neither consensus on whether a justice campus is even needed, nor on what it could or should look like if built.

By all accounts, the MCCJCC and DMC meetings included much vocal and informed opposition to the plan. Therefore, we find it offensive and plainly wrong for PMSI to conclude, as it does in the report, that there is a community consensus to build the justice campus.

We take their conclusion seriously and as an indication that they have no interest in what county residents actually desire. Instead, their conclusion confirms our initial suspicions: that they are here to make as much money as possible by building as many cages they can convince us we need. We are paying them to build us our own cages.

We maintain that Monroe County residents need to decide what is best for our communities. We reject the idea that for-profit consultants from out of town with a financial interest in justice campus construction should have any say in our own social and political decisions.

Build public safety, not jails

Even if the decision-making process were legitimate, building the justice campus would cement Monroe County's place on the wrong side of history. The prison-industrial complex, a term we use to define the institutions and logics that promote incarceration, surveillance, state violence and profit, self-perpetuates. More prisons and jails filled with more people convince communities that these institutions are integral to public safety. The reality is far from this myopic conclusion.

"We find it offensive and plainly wrong for PMSI to conclude ... that there is a community consensus to build the justice campus."

Indeed, a recent report from the Pew Center on the States, a non-partisan Washington, DC-based research institute, said the following: "After an extraordinary, quarter-century expansion of American prisons, one unmistakable policy truth has emerged: We cannot build our way to public safety." The report also suggests that jails and prisons may in fact make communities less safe.

Building bigger facilities with the capacity to expand even further -- such as PMSI proposes to do in Monroe County -- is not inevitable, but a choice. Building a justice campus is planning for a future none of us want. We don't want increased public insecurity. We don't want more people in jail. We don't want 70 of our youth to be eligible for a brand new cage.

The good news is that we can choose to reject this vision and instead build the kind of community that takes care of its own, that is concerned about its most marginalized populations, that addresses root problems, and that resolves conflict in creative ways that sustain families and communities, rather than routinely removing people from them.

Steps to real safety

One in 100 American adults is incarcerated. One in 31 American adults is under some form of correctional control, either incarcerated or under supervision in the community through parole and probation These are terrifying numbers, suggesting that a society that boasts freedom and justice is among the most punitive in human history.

"We believe that this community needs to "decarcerate," that is, to stop investing in jails."

Monroe County can be at the forefront of challenging this trend by developing ways to take care of one another that don't rely on the punitive justice system. This includes ways to effectively address overcrowding, prevent future incarceration, and approach social problems embedded in structural conditions. At various community meetings over the past year, many Monroe County residents articulated valuable ideas about where to begin:

  • Remove obstacles for people with felonies applying for jobs;
  • Eliminate rewards or quotas for police arrests;
  • Develop more Restorative Justice and Victim-Offender Reconciliation Programs and widen their usage for a range of offenses;
  • Lower public defenders' case loads/Hire more public defenders;
  • Require sensitivity training for all, especially related to persons with mental illness;
  • Lower the cost of being in the system (a $10,000 bail may as well be $1,000,000);
  • Increase access to drug treatment;
  • Institute harm reduction approaches to drug use;
  • Invest in spaces that aren't cages, houses especially for kids; and
  • Invest in real safety by funding programs that address people's basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.

This community should heed the words of the Pew Center study, which echo what criminologists, journalists and others have been saying for decades. Incarceration exacerbates the complex social problems of poverty, addiction and mental illness. Building bigger facilities will ensure that more people experiencing these root problems will suffer incarceration.

Decarcerate Monroe County stands with the people of this community who desire and deserve better than jails. We reject paying PMSI to build us our own cages.


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