Indianapolis jail at Twin Aire touted as criminal justice reform

An Indianapolis industrial-age vestige-turned-eyesore that’s been demolished into piles of rubble is ground zero for what leaders say will be holistic reform of the county’s criminal justice system.

Dozens of city, county, neighborhood and social services representatives gathered in the bracing cold Tuesday morning on the site of the decade-defunct Citizens Gas and Coke Utility plant site in the Twin Aire neighborhood just about three miles southeast of downtown Indianapolis. A new criminal justice center is proposed to rise in the 2900 block of East Prospect Avenue.

Announcement of the site selection by Mayor Joe Hogsett is “placing this neighborhood in the center of discussions about how we transform criminal justice and set an example for the nation,” said District 12 City County Councilor Blake Johnson.

Hogsett announced in December the intent to build a criminal justice center with assessment and treatment for mental illness and substance abuse as its centerpiece. “What we will build here will change more than lives. It will change the very life and the very history of this part of our community.”

Today, Hogsett announced the location and embraced its challenges, invoking President John F. Kennedy’s moon-shot speech about doing things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Few additional details other than location were provided Tuesday. It’s still unclear, for instance, whether courts, juvenile justice, prosecutor, public defender and other criminal justice functions will be included in the development expected to cost at least $500 million.

“I understand this site carries with it its share of challenges. But in rising to those challenges, I am convinced that our whole city will be the better for it,” Hogsett said. “No matter the challenges, be it poverty, be it crime, be it neighborhood decline, let us overcome them all as one city.”

“Today is a good day for the future of our city,” said Health and Hospital Corp. President and CEO Matt Gutwein. He said people who encounter the criminal justice system would benefit from the reforms envisioned, starting with assessments for substance abuse and mental-health issues.

“We have the unique opportunity right now to improve the safety of our community, improve the lives of neighbors who suffer from mental health and addiction, revitalize our neighborhoods, and at the same time save taxpayers money,” Gutwein said. “This is an example where really smart public policy meets with compassion, meets with good economics, and that’s a good result.”

Sheriff John Layton said a new jail holds the promise of reducing crime and turning around lives and communities. “I’ve been down at the old jail for 44 years. It’s tough,” he said. “And it’s not conducive to 2017. It’s just not what we need. It was OK in the ‘60s, but come on. We need to pony up here, and put together a facility that the citizens of Marion County can be proud of.”

The Marion County Judiciary will determine whether courts will be a part of the new justice center. A working group of judges studying that issue will meet for the first time this week, and the judiciary is expected to announce a plan for the courts by May 1.

Hogsett on Dec. 12 outlined his vision for reform. 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.    

Read more about the Marion County Criminal Justice Center in the Feb. 8 issue of Indiana Lawyer.

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