Council OKs $20 million in expenses for new justice center

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The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday night approved a resolution to pay for up to $20 million in planning and design costs associated with building the new criminal justice center.

The proposal, which was approved 17-7, would essentially provide a short-term loan—paid back out of eventual bond proceeds that are being used to finance the rest of the project—to fund the construction, design and planning for the three planned buildings on the site: an assessment and intervention center, a 3,000-bed jail and a courthouse.

Construction on the criminal justice center—the total cost of which is expected to be $571 million—would start early next fall at the site of the former Citizens Energy coke plant on the southeast side.

Mayor Joe Hogsett said in a written statement after the vote that “Indianapolis is closer to fundamentally reforming and improving our inefficient criminal justice system.”

“Once complete, the community justice campus will result in significant savings of tax dollars by addressing the root causes of crime, focusing on assessment and intervention in the lives of those struggling with substance abuse and mental illness,” he said.

The council members who voted against the proposal included Republicans Mike McQuillen, Brian Mowery, John Wesseler, Jeff Coats, Marilyn Pfisterer, Jason Holliday and Janice McHenry.

McQuillen said the city essentially needed to “dig under the city couch cushions” to pay for the proposal.

“Yes, I agree there is a need to build a new criminal justice center and I want to build a new criminal justice center,” McQuillen said. “We can do better.”

There was a lengthy list of public speakers who weighed in on the proposal. Most people who spoke did so favorably, but there was concern from some criminal justice reform advocates that the proposal didn’t go far enough to provide increased mental health treatment.

Many of the supporters were leaders of nearby neighborhood groups.

Rachel Cooper, president of Southeast Community Organizing, said her group was “so happy” about the proposal to build the new center in Twin Aire.

“We feel the mental health piece of this is very important to us in the neighborhood,” Cooper said. “We have a lot of homeless and a lot of drug addicts coming around. We hope with communication through the jail that this is a problem solver for the neighborhood.”

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