Marion County court operations will be moved from the Indianapolis City-County Building to the forthcoming Community Justice Campus that will be built in the Twin Aire neighborhood on the city’s south side, after the Marion County Circuit Court and the General Term of the Marion Superior Court voted to OK the relocation.
The decision was announced last Thursday, in conjunction with a deadline set by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett as part of his larger plan for justice reform in Indianapolis.
The need for justice reform has been a hot topic in Indianapolis since former Mayor Greg Ballard proposed constructing a new jail in 2014. Ballard’s plans hit a roadblock when he was unable to get enough support from the City-County Council.
Hogsett is spearheading his own plans for reform that include finding new ways to support individuals with mental illnesses or addictions, building a prison complex to replace the outdated and overcrowded jails that are currently in use, and working with churches and hospitals to find preventative solutions to decrease the number of people entering the prison system.
In May of 2016, the mayor organized a criminal justice reform task force to research what was working in other cities and to get suggestions from community leaders regarding what they would like to see happen here. Timothy Moriarty, a member of the task force, says after a year of work, the city is advancing from the planning stages of justice reform toward putting those plans into action. He feels moving facilities to one centralized location will increase cooperation among various groups.
“The move is a critical piece and a significant step, because it is part of a larger project. This isn’t just about building facilities; it’s about reforming our entire criminal justice system. The courts are a key criminal justice partner. Having them on-site with the other criminal justice entities fosters a kind of community. Justice delayed is justice denied, and if they are with the other facilities, the system moves much quicker,” said Moriarty.
Maggie Lewis, president of the Indianapolis City-County Council, says moving the facilities to one location will make it easier for the public to navigate the system.
“Once you are caught up in the system, it’s costly. For a person with a job and a car, it may be OK to have your attorney on one side of town and then to come downtown to the courts. If you are on a fixed income, it is so much easier to have everything at one location. This move will help individuals navigate our system,” said Lewis.
The task force is continuing their justice reform efforts by collaborating with Eskenazi Health to create a mobile crisis unit. In Marion County, 30 percent of inmates are classified as mentally ill, and more than 80 percent have substance abuse problems. The mayor plans to include an Assessment and Intervention Center on-site at the Community Justice Campus to assist individuals who have mental health and substance abuse needs. The goal is to support individuals who are suffering from mental illness and drug addiction, or people who are in jail for minor offenses, and to keep them out of jail and in treatment programs.
“In August, we will be kicking off the mobile crisis unit. It will be a collaboration between the police department and Eskenazi that will have mental health professionals responding to incidents in a way that benefits the entire criminal justice system and entire community at large,” said Moriarty.
Lewis wants the community to be a part of the process. She plans to bring the conversation to the public by having meetings regarding justice reform at various locations around the city. She is excited to see what happens next.
“I am optimistic and excited about having this community discussion and digging deep into why folks are going to jail in the first place. I have worked with homeless individuals and folks who have struggled with substance abuse. I have witnessed them turn to crime to get that fix that they needed. It’s not about jail beds; it’s about getting to the root cause of the problem of why folks are going to jail in the first place,” said Lewis.
To read the mayor’s plans for justice reform, visit indy.gov/mayor and click on Criminal Justice Reform Task Force: Key Findings and Report.