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Public comments on criminal justice complex

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A public forum was recently held at the City-County building by the Marion County Justice Complex Board to hear testimony from community residents on the city’s recommendation to award French-based WMB Heartland Justice Partners the public-private agreement to construct and operate the proposed facility. The gathering was the third of four meetings held by the board.

The Marion County Justice Complex is slated for construction on 40 acres of vacant space at the former General Motors stamping plant and will replace currently aging facilities. According to the Consolidated Criminal Justice Complex’s website, the facility will house adult detention, inmate processing, the prosecutor, public defender, probation and community corrections and potentially other criminal justice-related agencies.

Deborah Daniels, former chair of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee and managing partner at Krieg-Devault law firm, spoke in support of the project, citing research studies from 1998 that demonstrated the need for quality facilities in Marion County due to safety concerns and court overcrowding. “There’s no question about the need,” she said. “We’ve known for 20 years. I fear a delay will cause us to miss an important window of opportunity.”

Industry professionals, City-County Council members, and other civic leaders also voiced their support including representatives from Indiana Plan for Equal Employment, Downtown Indy, and Willoughby Industries Inc., a leading manufacturer of stainless steel prison lavatories as well as other institutional plumbing products and accessories.

John Griffin, president of the Central Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council voiced his approval as well. “As a city we have benefited from leadership who knew when it was the right time to act,” he said using the recent NCAA Final Four tournament as an example of the city’s structural capacity. “Although it’s not quite the tourist attraction of Lucas Oil Stadium, the criminal justice center is the kind of infrastructure project that moves great cities forward.”

His group estimates the project will create work for approximately 2,000 construction professionals.

Despite the opinion of some that the center is a shining example of civil progress, others maintain its presence represents a moral stain on an already tainted social landscape.

“I believe we need a new facility, but I don’t agree that we should be using it to create a need for higher arrest rates for minorities,” said Scott Tyler, a former sheriff deputy and court administrator. He went on to say he did not agree with the plan to add more beds for an anticipated future prison population.

The proposed facility will add 1,000 new jail beds to the already existing number, bringing the total to over 3,000 at the completion of its construction. There are also plans to increase the number of community correction beds by 500.

Another commenter, Larry Bond, criticized the center stating he believes the choice to move jails out of the Indianapolis downtown is a way of sweeping the city’s troubles under the rug. “All this is, is a buffer to downtown where we can take all our criminals and send them out to where they won’t be seen,” he said. “You’ll have a city that’s not dealing with its problems.”

At Recorder Newspaper press time, the City-County Council committee voted 4-1 to forward plans for the center to the full Council for approval.

For more information on the Marion County Justice Complex, visit Indy.gov.

UPDATE : April 15, 2015 

On Tuesday April 14, the Criminal Justice Center proposal was voted down 6-2 by a committee of the Indianapolis City-County Council and will not be sent forward to the full council.

In a statement following the vote, Pam Hickman (@PamHickman4Indy) At-Large member of the Indianapolis City County Council, said “In the past few weeks, an independent financial analysis showed that this proposal will create a budget shortfall of tens of millions of dollars each year, which means we will either be forced to cut public safety services or raise taxes. It also has been revealed that the city’s parameters in bidding out the project left us with only one bid to consider. A growing chorus of voices is sounding the alarm on this Justice Center project because the numbers don’t add up.”

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