Raise Your Voice!

There’s one more vote tomorrow by our County Council to approve or deny our County Commissioners’ funding request for the proposed incarceration expansion.  While it feels like a losing battle right now, below is what I wrote to our County Council as one last effort to raise my voice.  I encourage you to do the same.  County Council emails are:

lbledsoe3@gmail.com
jpiper@co.delaware.in.us
councilmanscott@comcast.net
mcouncil3@sbcglobal.net
jlasater@co.delaware.in.us
rqdlctydist2@yahoo.com
cmatchett@co.delaware.in.us

Dear County Council Members,

It is my understanding that there will be a vote on the funds for the jail expansion plan at tomorrow’s County Council meeting.  I want to reach out one last time and implore you to walk in your authority to approve or deny funds and not just view this responsibility as a formality.  It is very concerning that our County Commissioners are proposing an expansion of incarceration in a county that is not expanding in population.  The fact that we have an overflowing jail in a county with a shrinking population is an indicator of problems that need a solution, not a holding cell.
  1. We need to think more creatively for solutions to improve jail conditions without expanding incarceration.
  2. Recidivism rates indicate that jails fix nothing – they are more of an expensive “time-out” for adults.
  3. We cannot commit well over 45 million dollars of public funds that are intended for community development to expand incarceration.  This is an unethical allocation of tax dollars.
  4. If there are an abundance of county tax dollars available for expenditure, let’s look at the following use of over 45 million (never mind the millions in interest):
    1. Expanding facilities funding to public charter schools, which receive zero local tax dollars, and thus run on budgets that are hundreds of thousands of dollars less per year than their district counterparts.  1 million dollars would pay off Inspire Academy’s facility and repair its roof.
    2. Improve facilities for our local school district: 10 million (1 million per school)
    3. Build a state-of-the-art addiction treatment center:  10 million
    4. Pay for inmates to be housed elsewhere during jail renovations and improvements: 3 million
    5. Jail renovations: 20 million
    6. Investment into city and county business development:  1 million
Why can we find a way to invest 45 million dollars in a school building after it is closed down and repurposed for incarceration when we can’t find a way to invest more money in schools that are open and educating young citizens?  45 million dollars can go a long way on the right projects. The jail expansion proposal that you are going to vote on tomorrow is not an ethical use of funds, and it will further our national trend of incarcerating at higher rates than any other free, developed, and democratic nation.  Voting yes tomorrow will create a stain on our county’s history books.  Please have the strength to vote no to this unethical proposal.
Sincerely,
Leslie Draper

Calling Cannot Be Escaped

Whelp – I guess since they used my quote, I need to post something on here.

There are many reasons I oppose the current jail proposal, three of which I outlined at this morning’s public hearing: expanding capacity for mass incarceration…by someone with a history of ethically questionable financial dealings…in a school!

I was disappointed by the blame-shifting evident in King’s closing comments and the attempt to shame the public for holding the commissioners accountable. We work with the city regularly; they help facilitate and fund many initiatives. This decision, however, is on the county. I was thrilled to see Riggins listen to the public, motion to table the decision, and have the strength to vote “no” knowing her fellow commissioners would oppose her. It is too bad her fellow commissioners are not listening…yet.

We are not done. We will continue conversations. We will continue working to negotiate for a solution to the current, substandard jail conditions that do not include expansion of mass incarceration, that do not include a school, but that do include addiction treatment and mental health care.

 

IPR Coverage of Public Hearing Here

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.

Request for Public Records Follow-Up

Many of you have asked about the response to my request for public records surrounding the incarceration expansion planned for the former Wilson Middle School.  Below is an email I sent today due to a lack of access to the requested public records.  I have received email responses prior to this email, but no access to the requested public records has yet been granted.

Dear Mr. Brooke,

According to IC 5-14-3-3, I must be provided access to inspect and copy the list of requested public records within a reasonable time if requested during regular business hours.  It has now been nineteen business days since my request, with a county council meeting tomorrow.  At this point, I am interpreting my lack of access to view these requested records as a lack of compliance with the Indiana Code and will proceed accordingly unless access is granted before the close of business today.  I have copied Ms. Melanie Marshall, the County Recorder, on this email in case she can be of more assistance and more responsive than the previously addressed group of elected officials.  Below is a copy of the list I originally requested on June 26th, for everyone’s convenience:
  • A copy of the RFP for the jail project cited in the June 26th county council meeting
  • A copy of the packet of statistics provided by the sheriff’s department referenced in the June 26th county council meeting
  • A copy of the resolution passed by the county commissioners at the June 25th county commissioner hearing
  • A copy of documentation of the RFP for the new jail project being posted publicly for at least thirty days and a copy of the three or more companies approached when only one bid was received to ensure public bidding law was followed
  • A copy of the petition in support of the jail project referenced in the June 26th county council meeting
  • The date, time, location, and agenda for the county council meeting at which this use of funds will be reviewed for final approval by the council
  • Agendas and minutes from both the June 25th county commissioner hearing and the June 26th county council meeting
  • Any other public information available to me surrounding the facts, figures, and processes of the jail project decision
Sincerely,
Leslie

Requesting Public Records

It is important to be more involved in societal change than just posting our thoughts on social media.  Shaping thoughts through social media is a good place to start, but it is not enough.  When contacting public officials and leaders, it is important to be very clear what you are asking.  You may have noticed in my “Please Stop Adding Cages” entry, that I stated my clear request at both the beginning and the end of the letter.  After attending today’s county council meeting, below is the follow up request I sent:

Dear County Council Members and County Commissioners,

I am writing to request copies of all documents afforded to me as a member of the public via a public records request.  I am not sure of the proper protocols for this request, so if it is not to ask you directly, please direct me to the appropriate person from whom I should request these records.  I would like to see a copy of the following:

  • A copy of the RFP for the jail project cited in today’s council meeting
  • A copy of the packet of statistics provided by the sheriff’s department referenced in today’s council meeting
  • A copy of the resolution passed by the county commissioners at yesterday’s hearing
  • A copy of documentation of the RFP for the new jail project being posted publicly for at least thirty days and a copy of the three or more companies approached when only one bid was received to ensure public bidding law was followed
  • A copy of the petition in support of the jail project referenced in today’s county council meeting
  • The date, time, location, and agenda for the county council meeting at which this use of funds will be reviewed for final approval by the council
  • Agendas and minutes from both yesterday’s and today’s meetings
  • Any other public information available to me surrounding the facts, figures, and processes of the jail project decision
Thank you in advance for your assistance in obtaining any and all information surrounding the pending new jail project that is available to me as a taxpaying, voting resident of Delaware County.  I have serious concerns about the price tag, the location, the process, and the ideology behind this pending project and want to be as informed and active in exercising my rights as a voting citizen in this project as possible.
I look forward to receiving these documents and/or hearing a response as to where I should be requesting these documents.
Sincerely,
Leslie
…probably should’ve added my last name there!  😉  As you can see, my form is not perfect.  There are pieces of this process that I don’t understand (and some comma errors), but we cannot let these things stop us from being involved in the decision making process.  I hope many more of you will consider writing your county council members and your count commissioners about this project.

Please Stop Adding Cages!

While it sounds like the County Council does not have the power to overturn today’s decision, I still feel it is important to raise our voices and let our elected officials know that we disagree with this decision.  Below is the letter I sent this evening to share my thoughts.

Dear County Council Members,

I am gravely disappointed in the County Commissioners’ unanimous vote to commit $45 million of taxpayer money to transform the former Wilson Middle School into an expanded county jail.  I am asking you to vote to stop this initiative in its tracks at your June 26thmeeting by voting to deny authorization to borrow this sum of money for this purpose.

 As the founder of Muncie’s only public charter school, I was approached by multiple community members who encouraged me to pursue acquiring the former Wilson Middle School building through legislation that empowers charter schools to acquire unused district school buildings at little to no cost.  I did not move forward with this because our organization was too young to take on such expansion so quickly and because being located within the city center is important to the mission of our school.  When I first heard that discussions about transforming the former Wilson Middle School into a jail were taking place, I was sad and angry that our community had closed a beautiful school and was entertaining these discussions, and I was frustrated that I was not in a position to intervene.

As a community, we must ask ourselves why our population has decreased and the need for incarceration has increased.  Something is very wrong, and we must address the issues, not just lock more people in jail cells.  Incarcerating people does not fix anything.  It is just a way to temporarily contain a problem while stripping people of their dignity and doing nothing to address the issues.

I serve children everyday who could easily be tagged as some of your first inmates as this new incarceration facility, a facility that should have been a facility used to prepare them for a life as productive citizens.   Inspire Academy has the highest percentage of students on free and reduced lunch of any of the schools in Delaware County, and we work daily to empower students to break cycles of addiction and poverty through education.  And yet, the county and the city contribute no funds to the operation of our public school.  The state government contributes funds.  The federal government contributes funds.  But my city and county contribute nothing to the education of 200 of their students in PK – 8th Grade facing the barrier of poverty every single day.  It is a hard pill to swallow that my county officials are willing to invest $45 million dollars to the future incarceration of some of my students without contributing $1 to the education of my students.

Yes, I am angry.  Yes, I am an active citizen.  Yes, I am a public servant.  Yes, I work every day to make our city and county a better place.  And yes, I vote.  (I also have a good bit of influence on the voting opinions of others.)  The county commissioners did not stand by their responsibility to represent the people today and voted to encumber our county with significant debt and a disgraceful stain of moving toward more mass incarceration that the public is saying with unified voice, “No, we don’t want this!”  (not to mention the concerning lack of bids and centrality of one LLC to the entire project)  I am asking you to vote to stop this initiative in its tracks at your June 26thmeeting by voting to deny authorization to borrow this sum of money for this purpose.

Sincerely,

Leslie Draper