Should a School Become a Jail?

When I first saw the article in the paper a few years ago, indicating that the idea of turning the former Wilson Middle School into a new jail, my heart sank.  As an education activist, the pipeline from public education to incarceration has always been a serious concern of mine, one that I have actively pursued interrupting during my career.  We are now at a pivotal moment, one where a proposal to turn the newest, state-of-the-art K-12 education facility in our community into a jail because our school district could not afford to keep it open.  People always say you can tell someone’s priorities by looking at their checkbook.  I fear the same is true for our society; we can see our priorities when we look at our national, state, and local budgets.

I recently requested access to many of the records available to me as a citizen, and I would like to share with you what I found.  I know many of you have been wrestling with similar concerns and questions as I surrounding the current proposal, so below are the highlights that I believe to be important, as well as next steps you might pursue to research this further and remain involved.

The first item of utmost importance to review is the Request for Proposals (commonly known as an RFP).  This is required by law to be posted publicly for public expenditures above or beyond a certain amount.  All posting requirements were met.  For those interested in pursuing this issue further, research into requirements in this department, at this expense level, for what is required when three or more proposals are not received would be prudent.

The RFP can be viewed here.  Below is a list of concerns I have, but please note, I am only a concerned citizen.  I do not know all the details and surrounding information, so it would not surprise me if there are reasonable explanations for some of these pieces.  Nonetheless, in the interest of saving everyone having to do the same request for records, I am sharing my thoughts.

  1. “Develop, design, build, and finance” (p. 1, Section I A)  “Developer shall provide the financing (including any required debt and equity) necessary to complete the Project as described in the BOT Agreement.” (p. 4, Section 2 C)  This seems to narrow the bidders to only those with the capacity to finance a $45 million project.  While I’m sure needing to borrow to the tune of $45 million is prohibitive, this strikes me as a concerning limitation on bidders.
  2. “On average, the jail houses approximately over 270 people per day and has a rated capacity of 220. The design of the existing facility is very staff intensive as well.”  (p. 1, Section I B)  “Jail capacity should be a minimum of 500 rated beds and dedicated medical isolation cells, padded cells, temporary holding/group holding cells; would prefer 700 bed facility. … 🤨 In a city that is decreasing in population, our officials have requested proposals that can accommodate over double the current incarceration rate. Andrew Draper, Lezlie McCrory, and I asked some questions on this one and were provided with this ⬇️.

It is worth asking and pushing on the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) where these projections come from and how we can change the trend instead of accommodate the trend. Multiple officials have noted that IDOC is requiring improvements to the current jail situation. Agreed, improvements are needed, but improvements and expansion are different. It is worth figuring out if the IDOC is requiring expansion or if the county is choosing expansion so that we know who to push back on to reverse this concerning trend of increasing incarceration rates (which means decreasing free people in the “land of the free”).  We’ve been told by local officials that the IDOC requires them to follow jail population projections.  There is a name and contact information on the document pictures above. We’ve also been told that there was a letter sent out to our county officials from Mr. Chance Sweat from IDOC, so a good next step may be for those interested to request a copy of that letter and/or reach out to Mr. Sweat to determine what is being required of our local officials.  It has also been recommended by an official that people research what the IDOC is doing in keeping the D level felons in the local county jails to save money at a State level.  Rumor has it that the State has saved about 40 million by the counties keeping level D felons in the home county…interesting number.

3.  “The design of the existing facility is very staff intensive as well.” (p. 1, Section I B)  “Design and construction needs to improve staffing efficiency.” (p. 15, Appendix A)  This tells me that the new proposal is intended to employ fewer humans per prisoner.  Cost-efficiency is of greater importance than human interaction is what I’m taking away from this desired shift.  Restorative practices require more people, not fewer.

4.  “Space for Probation, Prosecutor, IVD/Court/Family Support, Courts/Clerk/Support, Juvenile Court, Community Corrections, Public Defender and Sheriff’s Office need to be included in the facility. …Proposals should include options for adding an additional Circuit Court, space for CASA program, and up to an additional three hearing rooms.”  (p. 1, Section I B, and p. 15, Appendix A)  Several people have raised concerns about the amount of downtown traffic and business interactions this will remove from downtown restaurants, store fronts, offices, etc.  Muncie has made significant progress in building an active and thriving downtown.  Some of this progress will likely be reversed.  Officials have shared that potential uses for the vacated building are being explored to ensure continued positive downtown movement.  Also of concern is the distance many people without transportation will need to travel to participate in any activities related to all of these entities.  Officials have shared that the MITS has agreed to add a route to the proposed site for public transportation.

5.  “The County anticipates the Project should cost $40,000,000 to $50,000,000, depending on the design features incorporated into a developer’s proposal.” (p. 3, Section II A)  “Although the County is in negotiations for a project site located at 3100 S. Tillotson Avenue, Muncie, Indiana, the definite project site has not been identified and it is the responsibility of the Developer to recommend a site with their proposal.” (p. 3 Section II B)  “This section shall include the Offeror’s commitment to design, construct, finance, and operate the Project, along with any assumptions, clarifications and exclusions, at or below a cost of forty-five million dollars ($45,000,000) total Project cost.” (p. 12, Section V C)   A potential project site is located at 3100 S. Tillotson Avenue, Muncie, Indiana.  Proposals should be based both upon this site and other potential sites identified by Offeror. (p. 17  Appendix C)

Several officials have stated that renovating the current jail would cost more, as would any other available site.  Apparently, we won’t find out precisely how much since we’ve required the proposals to land in the range we expect the cost of the renovation of the former Wilson Middle School to cost.  That being said, officials have told us that other shell building sites have been reviewed carefully and that the cost would be about double this.  At least one of the detailed proposals about another proposed site can be viewed by typing “Delaware County Commissioners” into YouTube and viewing past public meetings.  (A sidenote/trivial matter, but a bit odd that the RFP says $40-50 million in one place and $45 million or less in another.🧐)

6.  “Offeror shall provide the County with information relative to Offeror’s relevant experience in designing, constructing, operating, project management and financing developments similar to this Project. The Offeror shall provide information detailing its experience working with public entities, scheduling and budgeting complex projects, managing costs, changes, and compliance with established budgets and schedules. Offeror shall provide the County with information regarding other public-private projects that Offeror has participated in. … “Affirmation that Offeror is not currently and has not been for a period of (3) years subject to litigation, including without limitation threatened litigation. If such an affirmation cannot be made, Offeror shall provide a full description of all such litigation or threatened litigation.”  (p. 10, Section 5 C) 

Below is a Facebook post that my husband, Andrew Draper compiled with information about said Offeror.  I’m not sure how a recently formed LLC can prove such evidence of relevant experience, let alone the more concerning facts below…seems fishy.🤨

“Want to know more about the private LLC that was recently formed to receive the $45 million bid on Delaware County’s new jail? Meet Troy Woodruff, co-owner of BW Development, the company that formed the LLC.

Troy is a former INDOT chief of staff who was investigated by the state ethics commission for all sorts of property deals and jobs for family members and business contracts for himself. The conclusion was that he had not violated the law but is very good at walking “right up to the line” and finding “loopholes” to financially benefit himself and his family.

As a state employee, he awarded over $500,000 in contracts to a private company and then left his state job to work as a contractor for that company. In the I69 extension in southern Indiana, the road ran through his family’s land and a bridge project benefited them financially. His uncle and cousins were paid $1.86 million and they subsequently purchased land from Troy for above market value. Meanwhile, Troy’s wife worked for the person who oversaw the I69 project. Additionally, Troy’s mother was hired by the district office Troy oversaw.

Please join us in asking the Delaware County Council to refuse to fund the new jail contract approved by the Commissioners.

Below find the newspaper articles from which this info is drawn.”

The second document of utmost importance is Resolution 2018-22, viewable here.  There are a few key pieces in this document, but one is most worthy of note.  The resolution to award the contract is clearly “contingent upon financing and the approval by the Delaware County Council.” (Resolution 2018-22)  This is not a done deal until the Delaware County Council votes, so stay involved!
That is all the information I have gathered to try to be an informed, active citizen, engaging a local decision that has massive repercussions on multiple levels.  At the end of the day, there are not easy answers to our community’s opioid epidemic or our nation’s trend of incarcerating citizens for non-violent crimes at much higher rates than other developed, free, democratic nations.  There are also no easy answers to our nation’s commitment to provide a free and appropriate education to all citizens amidst this opioid crisis and a shift from an industrial age to a technological age.
However, I believe that there are times to take an option off the table on moral and ethical grounds.  I believe there are times that cost and efficiency cannot have the final say.  I believe that this is one of those times.  Last week, a group of middle school students stopped by to pray for our family, and they kept referring to “the middle school situation.”  You see, to our youth, this is a middle school situation as much as it is a jail situation.
To the trauma it will cause our youth, to the hope that will die, to the potentially corrupt LLC, to the inequitable numbers of incarcerated black lives, to punitive solutions instead creative solutions, to putting a jail where a school once was, to all of this, I say no.  I have continued to let my local, elected officials know that I cannot support a community shutting down a school and opening an expanded incarceration facility in its place.  I cannot support this.  I hope my readers will consider all the information available and become involved in helping our community pursue a better solution to the problem.

One thought on “Should a School Become a Jail?

  1. Pingback: Wrestling with Rest (Weeks 3 – 5) – Cage Free

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