New Marion Co. jail touted as a model for the future

One of the housing units in thew new Marion County Jail includes a recreation space (beyond the right windows) that lets in natural light and fresh air. (IL photo/Chad Williams)

When Marion County Sheriff’s Col. James Martin pulled the heavy, thick metal door, it opened with a soft click.

The muted sound, rather than a loud clang, is part of the intentional design of the Adult Detention Center at Indianapolis’ new Community Justice Campus nestled on the eastside of the city. Although the facility is a place of incarceration, with cells, common rooms, locked doors, white walls and 24-hour monitoring, Martin continually pointed out the changes being implemented to steer inmates toward rehabilitation and ease the workload on the staff.

“I think what you’re going to see here are things that we’ve done in this building that no one’s done across the country,” Martin said. “There are things we’ve done here, I think, (that are) going to set the example for how future jails are built and how inmates are handled.”

Martin, Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal and other law enforcement and city officials recently gave a tour of the new detention center. The relocation of inmates began Jan. 15, as two vans of detainees with police escorts made the trip to the new jail. Some of the sheriff’s administrative staff has already moved into their offices in the new facility.

Along with the space for the jail and sheriff’s department, the $571 million Community Justice Campus will also be home to the Marion County Courts. The new courthouse, an 11-story gleaming structure that towers over the site and is connected to the new jail, will incorporate state-of-the-art technology in 71 courtrooms and help facilitate the realignment of the courts’ divisions, including the new family division that will use a one-judge, one-family approach.

Construction is underway for the office building that will house the Marion County Public Defender Agency and the Marion County Probation Department. Also, plans are just beginning for a new Youth and Family Services Center that will replace the current Juvenile Detention Center and courts complex on Keystone Avenue.

Already completed and operating on the campus is the new Assessment and Intervention Center, which is focused on helping individuals who get entangled in the criminal justice system because they have mental and behavioral health and substance abuse issues. Between its opening on Dec. 1, 2020, and Nov. 30, 2021, the center received 2,419 referrals and conducted 1,707 assessments.

The Adult Detention Center, which has capacity for 2,997, will be the next facility to open on the campus. Martin said the overall goal of the new jail is to improve the quality of life for inmates by increasing services and keeping them more occupied.

Murals and wristbands

Before pulling open the metal door, Martin paused to talk about noise in the current jail. The concrete and metal emit clangs and bangs loud enough to wake the inmates even as the guards do their early morning rounds.

In the new facility, whisper-quiet doors are among the innovations that Martin said have been installed to ease the stress on both the inmates and the staff.

The housing unit Martin showed off had small cells furnished with bunk beds, a seat and table, and a toilet. A common area, which had rows of yellow plastic chairs, was in the center of the cells, and off to the side was a recreational area that can let in natural light and fresh air.

Above some of the cells was a mural depicting a countryside. Martin said the pastoral scene was meant to provide a “little mental health break” for the inmates.

Technology is used throughout the facility. Each inmate will be outfitted with a radio frequency identification, or RFID, wristband that will track their location every three seconds. The guards will not only know where the inmates are but will also be alerted if, for example, an individual is placed in the wrong housing unit or does not pick up a meal.

Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Tanesha Crear wore one of the wristbands for 30 days to see what the inmates would experience. “It didn’t bother me a bit,” she said.

In addition, the housing units are equipped with video monitors so the inmates can appear virtually for court hearings. A streaming service will also be available, which will allow programs taking place in one unit to be broadcast to other units.

The medical unit has a treatment room, dental office, physical therapy room, dialysis center and beds for chronic and acute care. Martin said inmates will be able to receive more services on site, eliminating the need to transport many of them to hospital.

In the mental health ward, the design is more open, with several beds in the main room instead of individual cells. Less privacy and design features such as sloped surfaces, Martin explained, reduces the risk of inmates “slipping away” and hurting themselves.

Also, about a dozen full-time employees will be on staff to mingle with inmates and help address any mental health issues. Martin said if an individual is looking disheveled or in a corner crying, those employees will talk to the person to find out what the problem is.

The reentry facility, where inmates will be processed for release, is also undergoing a transformation. Rather than giving a few dollars for bus fare and a list of social service agencies, staff will be on hand around the clock to help the individuals get rides, food, housing, employment or whatever kind of assistance they need.

“It’s one thing if you’re sitting in an old jail built in 1965 and you’ve got a bunch of people in uniform trying to give you information to get you access and service when you’re really just trying to get back out the door,” Martin said. He added that the reentry facility uses “nonuniform personnel, and we’ve also had experience with nonuniformed personnel having better luck connecting to (inmates), talking to (them) and getting (them) to listen a little bit.”

Juvenile detention

Elevatus Architecture in Fort Wayne has been hired to design the new Youth and Family Service Center, according to Sarah Riordan, executive director and general counsel for the Indianapolis Local Public Improvement Bond Bank. The City-County Council has approved $40 million for the project.

The timeline for completion of the new juvenile justice center, which will be located on the edge of the campus near Prospect Street, is uncertain. Riordan said she would like the groundbreaking to be held in 2022, but the economy’s ongoing supply chain and labor shortage issues may delay construction.

Changes in juvenile justice will be incorporated into the design of the building, Riordan said. The courts are working closely with the architects to create spaces for education and recreation as well as rooms where families can visit.

“The notion is more about solving problems and helping so that the kids get back on the right track,” Riordan said. “The courts know what the programming is and what the state-of-the-art is, so they’re working with the architects to make sure the building reflects those policy changes.”•

-The AP contributed to this report.

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