A new jail and a new approach to non-violent offenders is on Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s to-do list, and a likely site for the jail is expected to be announced in January after a task force of community and official stakeholders recommended holistic change to the city’s criminal justice system.
Because 85 percent of Marion County Jail inmates have substance abuse problems and as many as 40 percent are mentally ill, the task force concluded a new jail must be built around new ways to treat those arrested on charges related to addiction, mental illness and repeat offenses.
Hogsett on Dec. 12 outlined his vision for reform — one he called “bold in its concept and immense in its scope.” Key recommendations from the Indianapolis Criminal Justice Reform Task Force, which conducted 10 community meetings on the issue, include:
• build a new 2,600-3,000-bed 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.
Whether Marion County courts would be relocated from the City-County Building is unresolved. The task force recommends a consolidated civil and criminal courthouse located with the jail but notes, “The final determination of design and courts included will be made by the Marion County judiciary.” According to a project timeline, the task force will make a site recommendation on Jan. 31, and the judiciary will announce a courts plan May 1.
“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.
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.”
The report says the city’s Office of Public Health and Safety is working with hospitals, service providers, first responders, and the criminal justice community to identify so-called “super utilizers” who consume an outsized share of all these agencies’ resources. These most often are people who are homeless, mentally ill, substance addicts, or a combination. The goal is to “design a collective, cross-jurisdictional policy of intervention and prevention,” the report says, saving tax dollars and improving outcomes for this population.
The task force report incorporates some of the work of Hogsett’s predecessor, Mayor Greg Ballard, whose proposal for a criminal justice complex built under a public-private partnership was killed last year by the City-County Council. The task force is evaluating a dozen sites identified in Ballard’s process, but not the former General Motors stamping plant site west of downtown that became the preferred site for Ballard’s proposal.
“By contrast,” the report says, “the CJR Task Force has far broader policy and process goals. The Task Force’s facilities recommendations derive from those policy and process goals.”
Part of that begins in early 2017, when the Reuben Engagement Center will open in the Arrestee Processing Center. The facility will provide shelter, medical detox, case management and other services to homeless, addicted and mentally ill people, diverting them from costly jail or hospital stays.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said his office agrees with the emphasis on treatment. “Reducing recidivism and breaking the cycle of criminal activity are goals shared throughout the public safety agencies,” he said in a statement. He said such a strategy expands on efforts in problem-solving courts like drug and veterans courts, and specialized diversion programs for offenders with mental health and behavioral issues.
“Each of these programs incorporates case management and intense treatment plans where appropriate,” Curry said.
The Indianapolis Bar Association’s Justice Center Task Force surveyed IndyBar members and wrote in a letter to Hogsett’s assistant Timothy Moriarty “the overwhelming concern of our members is the location of the Justice Center. Specifically, it is our members’ desire for the judicial center to remain in the downtown area.”
By the numbers
A new criminal justice center would likely cost $500 million to $600 million, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.
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.”
The report said consolidating jail facilities that currently are spread among numerous locations in the city would save taxpayers about $35 million a year. Likewise, Marion County Sheriff John Layton estimates the jail spends $7.7 million on medical attention and staffing considerations for mentally ill inmates. Much of that cost comes from emergency room trips, which could be sharply cut if a new jail had improved levels of treatment available, as the plan envisions.
“You put all that money together, that’s enough to pay for a new jail,” Layton said.
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 1. “It’s not doing the public the good that it costs.”
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.•