INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – With great fanfare, and the support of dozens of neighbors, researchers and other political leaders, Mayor Joe Hogsett stood on a frigid January day last winter at the site of the former Citizens Energy Coke Plant on East Prospect Street and announced it would someday be home to Marion County’s new Community Justice Campus.
Since that time, city-county councilors have approved the funds to begin the design of the proposed $570 million campus while Citizens Energy continues with its remediation of the contaminated land.
While the vision of the new jail, sheriff’s office, courthouse and health assessment and intervention center comes into focus, a small group of opponents have walked door-to-door in a couple east side neighborhoods, sharing information with residents that they claim ought to sink the project.
“What we’ve been hearing from people is they would like to see money spent on schools, community centers, opportunities for job programs mental health facilities and substance abuse counseling,” said Erin Marshall of the No New Jail Coalition. “If we were to spend money on things like mental health, substance abuse and work programs we would see a drastic need for a cut in incarceration.”
Marshall belongs to “Decarcerate Marion County,” a group dedicated to lessening the public safety community’s emphasis on incarceration.
She also heads the anti-jail coalition, along with representatives from Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice and the Indianapolis Socialist Party that has planted a handful of black and white signs in east side yards opposing the jail plan.
“If you consider that a majority of the people who are incarcerated locally are there because of some combination of a mental health issue, a drug substance use issue and an inability to pay bail, if we address those issues in other means, which is completely possible, there is absolutely no need for 3000 beds in a jail here,” Marshall said. “Co-locating social services on the same site as a jail and courts or a justice campus is criminalizing mental health and drug use and none of those things are crimes. They are social problems and should be dealt with as social problems.”
On January 1, new bail reform laws in Indiana are expected to reduce the number of arrestees denied bond for financial reasons.
Mayor Hogsett’s plan includes $9.5 million for an assessment and intervention center where detainees experiencing mental health or substance abuse issues could be examined and referred for treatment as opposed to incarceration, plus $365 million for a new jail and sheriff’s office and $195 million for a new courthouse.
“What we’ve got now the status quo is not working. Our jails are dilapidated. Our jails are inefficient,” said Councilman Blake Johnson, a Democrat representing the Twin Aire community where the center will be built. “If you have mental health issues, a lot of time you’re just cycled right back into that system without a lot of intervention. How do we address intervention with those folks? How do we get rid of portions of the prison industrial complex by getting rid of private contracts in the operation and administration of our jail? How do we assure we have efficiencies that will save taxpayers money and lastly what we’re seeing here is an investment in a part of a community that hasn’t seen a lot of attention for a long time?”
Under the new jail proposal, Marion County will end its contract with Core Civic, a private company that operates Jail II near downtown on East Washington Street that was opened a decade ago to handle the overflow from the crowded county jail.
Johnson sees the proposed center as not only a solution to criminal justice reform in Marion County but an economic catalyst to boost the struggling Twin Aire community east of Fountain Square.
Marshall disagrees, claiming only a relatively few low-income jobs will be created while others will be lost and the site is so polluted it will necessitate a ten year clean up to remove or neutralize the toxins left by a century of coke production byproduct.
“I think there are other parts of Twin Aire and the neighborhood that we could put money into and we could develop and we could leave that site alone and still do benefit to the people of Twin Aire,” she said.
“It’s not just about the complex itself going into that site,” said Johnson. “It’s about providing a way for this neighborhood really come together and start planning for themselves.”