Hogsett unveils vision for jail, criminal justice reform

December 12, 2016

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett outlined his vision Monday — one he called “bold in its concept and immense in its scope” — for a new jail and a reformed criminal justice system that would prioritize mental health and addiction treatment for non-violent offenders.

Hogsett’s office also released a 120-page report of recommendations from the Indianapolis Criminal Justice Reform Task force. Among its key recommendations:

  • Build a new jail that includes an assessment and intervention center with health, addiction and social services components;
  • Give Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers, social service providers and criminal justice facilities a pre-arrest diversion toolbox to assess offenders in need of treatment and social services; and,
  • Increase transparency and accountability between the community and the criminal justice system.

“The time has come for us to immediately identify non-violent, low-level offenders suffering from serious mental illnesses and drug addiction. We must enhance our ability to divert them from the criminal justice system and provide them the treatment they desperately need from professionals rather than simply locking them in jail,” Hogsett said to applause as he addressed a standing-room crowd at Old City Hall.

Hogsett offered a vision long on aspiration but short on detail. He took no questions after a brief address and offered no estimates of the plan’s costs or possible locations for the facility. Also unclear is whether the proposed facility will include criminal courts, as did former Mayor Greg Ballard’s $1.75 billion criminal justice center plan, which was shot down by the City-County Council last year.

Indianapolis Business Journal reported Monday the facility would likely cost $500 million to $600 million and that Hogsett’s team is considering all 13 sites Ballard’s plan identified, except for the former General Motors Stamping Plant site, Ballard’s chosen location.  

Hogsett described a young woman and a young man who each had been arrested numerous times for crimes related to drug abuse from an early age, repeating a costly cycle.

“These two stories are really one,” he said. “One that we see over and over again, one that costs taxpayers millions of dollars a year, one that makes neighborhoods less safe. In the grips of mental illness or addiction, a low-level, non-violent offender is processed again and again through the criminal justice system with a number of days in our local jail, almost each time without assessment or treatment for their underlying illness.”

Hogsett, a Democrat, said it costs taxpayers about $82 per night to house an inmate in the Marion County Jail. He said untreated mental illness and addiction are at the root of many of those costs, noting emergency runs for reports of mental illness are on pace to increase 45 percent in 2016, and calls for opiate overdoses are soaring.

 “This year Indianapolis is on pace to set a record for opiate overdose 911 calls,” he said, noting paramedics are poised to triple those responses this year compared with a typical year. “We are in the midst of a heroin epidemic, and its users aren’t its only victims.”

“If we focus exclusively on facilities, and not on how the justice system is in many respects unjust, we can expect the same result – more crime, more tax dollars wasted.”

Marion County Sheriff John Layton said he may never get to work in a new jail because only two years remain in his term, but he said the need for a new facility is clear. “It’s a fossil,” he said of the current jail. “It’s not doing the public the good that it costs.”

Layton said savings could be achieved by reducing the costs of maintaining numerous facilities scattered around the central city, as his office currently does. “You put all that money together, that’s enough to pay for a new jail,” he said.

Marion County Republican Party director Joey Fox criticized Hogsett after the address, saying he’s had more than a year to craft a plan but offered few specifics. “It’s incumbent upon the mayor to offer a plan,” Fox said.


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