EDITORIAL: Don’t isolate heart of criminal justice

IBJ Staff
February 15, 2014
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IBJ Editorial

Most everyone agrees that a core function of government is justice—to accurately determine guilt or innocence of the accused and to carry out appropriate punishment.

Justice cannot be separated from the soul of government.

It is within this context that the Ballard administration leans toward moving the criminal courts and jails—along with offices for prosecutors, public defenders, probation and other functions tied to the system—to Indianapolis International Airport. Psychologically, that’s a nation away from the downtown heartbeat of the city.

Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration is laying few cards on the table out of concern, it says, for keeping the process competitive for developers that likely would handle the project in a public-private arrangement.

Mayoral aides, though, already are making a spreadsheet-centric case for the airport as the least expensive approach.

From the time Ballard and other officials announced in December their intent to build the long-discussed center, the administration has emphasized efficiency and downplayed the likely fallout of empty downtown offices and the greater difficulty of traveling to the facility.

We’re not yet convinced the city is on the right track.

Have all of the more conventional solutions that would keep justice services centrally located downtown been fully vetted? Are the potential cost savings of building at the airport significant enough to outweigh the inconvenience of the location for many Marion County residents and attorneys?

The airport site emerged as the recommended location in a market study, but that study considered only one downtown site—the former General Motors stamping plant.

To be sure, downtown projects are inherently trickier. So the allure of a development-ready site at the airport is understandable.

In addition to having more than enough land to accommodate the proposed 35-acre development, it has utilities and easy highway access, and it wouldn’t need to be purchased by the city and then taken off the tax rolls. There is room aplenty for expansion.

Couple those advantages with the efficiencies of consolidating the jails, and the administration thinks it can pull off the project without raising taxes.

Some residents wish the system and its grit a hearty farewell. They are also are mindful that civil courts and other government functions—functions often considered more savory—would remain downtown.

But residents should think hard about this.

As respected urban-design blogger Aaron Renn points out, the city would shift hundreds of people near another county that would like nothing more than to attract every possible dollar of their disposable income. The distance also will make it harder for people to access the system no matter how well bus lines might be improved.

Topping the list of reasons to keep the building downtown, though, is the symbolic value of retaining the gears of justice in the literal and figurative center of the city. Because it’s a core function of government.•


To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.


  • The Little Things
    In some sense, Mayor Ballard is to be commended for his farsightedness and willingness to tackle large projects. However, the mark of a truly great city is its attention to details. And it is in this respect that I believe our mayor shows a very real lack of insight. Things like snow removal and pot-hole repair are repeatedly pushed to the side so that projects such as the one discussed in this article (along with others mentioned in the comments--often done in secret, it seems) receive the mayor's full attention. Mayor Ballard, start listening to your real constituents, the everyday people of this city who aren't contractors or construction firms. The everyday people of this city want their roads and streets kept in excellent condition. The everyday people of this city want snow removed from the city's roads and streets so that their daily drives are safe. If this winter should have shown you anything, it's that soccer stadiums, cricket parks, and now the movement of the county's criminal justice system are all of less concern to this city's residents than is attention to the details of day-to-day life. Pay attention to the little things, Mr. Mayor, and the bigger opportunities you wish to pursue will probably be better received by the general public.
  • Welcome to Indy!
    Aside from the potential impact on downtown (which could be substantial), is it a good idea for Indy's convention-goers' & tourists' first view of the city to be an uninviting jail?
  • Bad Idea
    Moving the jail and justice center from the downtown is a very bad idea from a civic and economic standpoint. Our focus should continue to be on supporting the downtown rather than slowly dismantling it. Yes, as every other downtown business knows, it's more costly to do business downtown than it is in the 'burbs. However, those of us with downtown businesses stay anyway, because we believe it's important for Indianapolis to have a vibrant and successful downtown. What kind of message is the Mayor sending to the rest of us when he takes the position that the cost of doing business downtown is simply too high FOR THE CITY ITSELF? It seems to me that the City should scrap the idea of a new Metro station on the parking lot between the City-County Building and the existing Jail Building, and get creative with how that space and the Jail property might be repurposed for a new Jail and Justice Center complex.
  • Think outside the box
    Maybe this could be paired with a high speed rail connection from Downtown to the airport! that would have to help lure more conventions here.
  • couldn't agree more!
    I applaud the IBJ Editoral thinking, and I couldn't agree more. The Ballard Adm's rush move to the airport is another example of their short sightedness and lack of urban design experience. I realize they look at it from strictly an availability of land,and a financial perspective, without any concern for the long term benefits of the community at large. They will be gone, and we the citizens will have to live with and try and make it work. That shallow philosophy will likely haunt us for the next 50 years. The parking lot between the Jail 1 and the CC Building has been begging for the Justice complex for over 40 years! It could also expand east and vacate that one block of Alabama St. without any major logistical concern for the urban and transportation fabric. The south yard-plaza of the CCB could also become a third leg of the new Justice complex. The idea for a transit mall on that site(s) could easily be moved to another functional location. I can only guess that the F&C Market Square Tower, and the Artistry apartments were promised there would be no jail or courts next door? Again probably done in secret without public input or knowledge, a trend the Ballard Adm. is using more and more, a total lack of transparency. Even the Indy 11 Soccer stadium could have been developed in conjunction with the 'International Cricket' fields if a public discussion was aired before the isolated decision was made by the Mayor....another lost opportunity for efficiency and function to the community's long term benefit. Jail and courts belong downtown, and good urban design cannot continue to be ignored. Former Mayor Hudnut later stated he wished he understood good urban design while he was Mayor!....now he promotes it world wide.

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