City inviting proposals for new courts-jail complex

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A massive new criminal justice complex for Marion County would require at least 35 acres of land, add 1,000 new jail beds and as many as 30 courtrooms, and could even house state and federal offices.

Mayor Greg Ballard and other city leaders outlined the ambitious project as a way to solve decades of court and jail overcrowding Wednesday morning at a meeting of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee.

But leaders were short on details on how to finance the complex that, based on its scope, could well cost $200 million to $400 million and possibly be financed through a public-private partnership.

Nor would they elaborate on a possible location outside of downtown. Even a spot near Indianapolis International Airport could fit the bill, officials said.

“There are a number of sites around town that appear to make sense,” Ballard said.

What’s needed for the complex is interstate access, public transit connections and room to grow, said David Rosenberg, Ballard’s director of enterprise development.

Rosenberg said the city plans to issue requests for qualifications on Dec. 20 and begin evaluating proposals from private developers in February. A final proposal would be presented to the City-County Council for a vote next September, with construction beginning in early 2015.

But such a massive project would have to overcome probable political hurdles, including potentially controversial financing plans.

One concept the Ballard administration has studied is the potential for a private partner to obtain financing and to lease the facility back to the city for a period of decades – or various twists on that theme.

Ballard declined to elaborate, saying he wanted to see what kind of proposals the city receives.

“We think that [public-private partnership] gives us more cost effectiveness … without raising taxes,” he said.
Rosenberg said a public-private partnership “we think would be the preferred delivery model.”

Nearly a dozen studies have been made in the last 35 years about the feasibility of constructing a new courts and jail complex, Ballard said.  But one impetus to act now is the upcoming expiration of leases involving a number of criminal justice facilities around the city, Ballard said.

Also opportune: the low interest-rate environment, said Marion County Superior Court Judge David Certo.

A new criminal justice facility would likely be a boon to the local construction industry – and to politician coffers. The city has seen a flurry of big dollar projects in recent years, from the new airport terminal to Lucas Oil Stadium to the recently completed replacement for Wishard Hospital – the Eskenazi Health campus.

The criminal justice complex would be massive, based on preliminary plans advanced by city leaders. It could entail adult jail and inmate processing, a juvenile jail and criminal courts. It would house the prosecutor, public defender and community corrections offices.

There also would be room for clerks' and coroners' offices along with crime labs and possibly space for state and federal agencies.

Marion County Sheriff John Layton said the facility could bring substantial efficiencies through the use of new technology and architecture—reducing manpower needs.
Co-locating courts and jails also would eliminate the cost of shuttling prisoners by vehicle.

Certo said he looks forward to eliminating court overcrowding and the problematic mix of defendants, witnesses and jurors in close confines.

“This project gives us an enormous opportunity to take a better look at how to deliver services, including those for the mentally ill inmates,” Certo said.

Ballard said the net effect of a new, centralized complex would be long-term cost savings to taxpayers, though he declined to quantify the savings.

Transferring old city buildings to private use would generate some degree of additional revenue. The city’s Jail 1, Jail 2 and Community Corrections buildings sit atop land recently valued at $17.6 million, the city said.

Those facilities are near east-side locations such as the new Artistry residential project, Angie’s List and the former Market Square Arena site, the mayor said. “We anticipate a lot of interest by the private sector.”

Aaron Renn, an urban policy analyst who publishes the popular Urbanophile blog, said there’s an upside to transferring criminal justice operations to a new location.

Renn pointed out that neither Chicago nor New York City’s jails are located in their downtown commercial districts. The 96-acre Cook County Jail, for example, is southwest of downtown Chicago, in a neighborhood with shops and restaurants that benefit from jail-related traffic.

Moving Marion County’s justice center complex to a brownfield or otherwise vacant industrial site—for example, to the former General Motors stamping plant southwest of downtown—would inject money into those local neighborhoods as well, Renn said.

To make it work, Renn suggested direct transit routes from downtown to such a site, which would allow low-income residents access.

“You’d need good transit connections," he said.

The current advantage of downtown jails, and criminal courts in the 28-story City-County Building, which opened in 1963, is their central location. While that building initially housed 16 courts, there are now 38 courts in the immediate vicinity.

But relocating the current courts and jails could have short-term repercussion for downtown. Hundreds of lawyers, bail bondsmen and other justice-related workers are clustered near the City-County Building. Such populations have helped downtowns thrive, said John Kautzman, who co-chairs the Justice Center Task Force at the Indianapolis Bar Association.

The task force lobbied for building a new justice center as early as 2002.

Downtown's bond agents likely would move closer to a relocated facility, said Jim Degan, president of the Indiana Surety Bail Agents Association. That would give bond firms a chance to present a more professional appearance than their weathered and neon-dominated facades, he said.

Few will disagree that the city needs more shoulder room for its courts and jails. Layton recited a litany of problems, starting after Jail 1 was built in 1965. By 1972, it was deemed overcrowded. Lawsuits and court intervention ensued.

In 1996, old warehouse and manufacturing space was converted into Jail II. About 70,000 inmates move through the City-County Building each year, plus more than 500,000 citizens, jurors, victims and witnesses. An additional 1,000 beds would make room for about 3,400 inmates at one time.  

 “Delayed justice is expensive, and an expense we cannot afford anymore,” Layton said.


  • LSM
    Lafayette Square Mall? I think the 42nd and Post area might be better. If the city is trying to reduce the transportation costs... why not put the Criminal Justice Center where the highest crime rate is. That way the bad guys can walk home after they are released and the re-arrest costs will be minimal. Hold on... We would'nt want to shake up that area. The thugs might relocate to the northwest side. Wait a second, maybe we should build two of these jail complexes so we can accomodate both areas of concern. How about New Augusta and Fort Harrison.
  • Good idea
    Irvington Guy, thats actually a really great idea, probably the best suggestion I've heard since this plan was announced. Any area will probably encounter some NIMBYism, but I think for the LSM area that might be a good reuse.
    • Lafayette Square Mall
      Perfect location with interstate access, located right along the bus line and this would solve the problem of that empty waste of space of a mall.
    • Gentlemen, Start the Machine!
      DB makes an excellent point and has got me thinking about the aggressive timing of the scheduled RFQ: Perhaps the city's political structure sees the releasing of an RFQ so early in the process as a way of re-filling the near empty political coffers by firms hoping to see a piece of the action--firms who, since the start of the last big project (Eskenazi) have needed to be a little stingy with their dollars given given the dearth of recent work. Yes, get the architects and engineers licking their chops as early as possible and watch as every key politician and political consultant schedules fundraisers in January and February!
    • Why should the criminals get the new digs?
      Why are we talking about money spent on new digs for criminals and their Courts. Why don't we take all County Offices and Civil Courts out of the City County Building, revitalize it for more jail cells, IMPD offices, and criminal courts and move all the City County Offices and Civil Court's into a new mixed use development possibly on the PanAm plaza site. Kite is looking for a development opportunity there and it would be an excellent location to provide for civil courts, city-county offices, other gov't office space, and, for the higher more expensive floors a hotel and luxury condos. I just think the City-County Building is well situated with the Sheriff's Department, and the private jails near the interloop. The market square sites can be used to build up those resources and a new more vibrant location can be used to house the city-county offices and the civil courts. Just a thought.
    • Pass The Hat
      I think it's about time our Public Safety is considered seriously. We have too many crimes being committed by people unjustly released due to Jail overcrowding. "We need more Jails not Bike Trails". Had we directed the millions of dollars wasted on bike paths in the middle of city streets toward additional jail space we would not have had several high profile crimes lately! I am sure that any responsible businessman or homeowner would gladly pony up to fund this project with the assurance that thier contribution is not wasted on something else touchy-feely. Where do I sign up to keep the thugs where they belong until they are reformed or remorseful? Remember this..."More Jails, fewer Trails" oh yeah, trails need to be patrolled for criminals and thugs at taxpayer expense as well. See, this is starting to make sense.
    • GM Site
      So does this mean that the two prevalent options for the old GM site are either a new stadium/commercial project for Indy Eleven or a new jail? As a local resident, I feel like there would be a much more positive revitalization effort made for Indy Eleven and the businesses that would follow a sports team rather than the new criminal justice complex
    • yes, yes, and yes!
      Hey all you B's this is truly needed and I think about time! Have you tried to use the CC Bldg. since 911? The security shakedown can be worse than the TSA at the airport, and it's high time the citizens got the building back. I only wish we could get the police out of there and to a new facility also. Relocating all City and County offices into the 25 story structure would bring cost savings and less confusion to our entire government system. The centralized judicial and jail spaces would also make for a smoother and more efficient experience for our judges, lawyers, and police officers. The Metro IPD could still be downtown, just in new digs with more room, and their own parking lot!! Just the opened up curb side and metered parking spaces would be a windfall for local merchants, residents and visitors alike. Even the vacated Bail Bond offices would open new opportunity for small business to move in...I think the whole idea is great for the entire City for the long term!
    • DB
      Didn't you read the article? "Numerous" studies, and a recommendation as long ago as 2002 don't really qualify as sudden and unpredictable behavior by the administration. More like long overdue.
    • BM
      The answer is "No".
    • Overpopulation?
      I wonder...if marijuana was legalized and offenders with marijuana related convictions were released, would there still be an overpopulation issue in our jails?
    • City moving quickly
      Maybe it's because I've only lived in Indianapolis for 2 1/2 years and haven't seen a public project of this scope take place. Does it seem like the turnaround time between saying that this project was again a top to priority to requesting qualifications was a bit hastened. I only make this observation because it was only last month that this became a mayoral priority and we are already seeing calls go out to firms. Were local (read as: well connected) firms informed beforehand so that they would be best prepared.
    • Astounding
      "About 70,000 inmates move through the City-County Building each year" - In a metro area of less than 1.5 million? Disgraceful, or a bold advert for an overhaul of the criminal justice system.
    • Public/Private
      Welcome to "Brink's Incarceration Center @ Marion County Justice Complex"; or "Indy Community Corrections by Fairbanks Hospitals".

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