Some attorneys not sold on proposed justice complex

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Walk with security commander Maj. Royce Cole through the narrow cellblocks, past the iron bars holding inmates in Marion County Jail 1, and he’ll tell you what you’re not seeing.

“It doesn’t have the modern stuff newer jails have,” Cole said. What Marion County’s jails do have is duplication. There are five facilities housing county arrestees and inmates, several with their own food prep areas, medical facilities, laundries and other essentials.

In Jail 1, you also won’t see, but it exists, the inefficiency that comes from an antiquated holding facility designed so there’s no monitoring of cellblocks from a central location. That means deputies, every 15 minutes, walk through the cell blocks, checking. “It’s not direct supervision, which is what we want,” Cole said.

Complex jail tunnel 15colA tunnel that predates Marion County Jail I is still used to transport inmates to and from the City-County Building. (Indiana Lawyer Photo/Eric Learned)

Those sorts of redundancies and inefficiencies, plus concerns for security at the jail and at the Indianapolis City-County Building—where defendants with court dates come into regular contact with the public—prompted city and county officials last month to announce a Criminal Justice Complex proposal that would bring courts, jails and other related functions under one very large roof.

Officials say the facility can be funded by savings without a tax increase. The complex would house juvenile and adult detention facilities, adding 1,000 beds to the current maximum population of 2,507. It also would be home to criminal courts; prosecutor, public defender and probation offices; and practically all related county criminal-justice offices.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced the plan, saying, “Marion County’s jail and court facilities are aging, inefficient and unsafe.” Sheriff John Layton said 70,000 inmates move through the City-County Building each year alongside victims, jurors and witnesses.

But for lawyers who practice in the City-County Building, unanswered questions about the plan are concerning, especially persistent speculation that the facility might be located on city-owned property near the Indianapolis International Airport on the far west side.

“I’m concerned about all the businesses that are dependent on the City-County Building—the City Market, the bail bondsmen, the lunch places over there,” said criminal defense attorney Andrew Borland, whose office is near the downtown building that houses the courts. He said he’d back a complex downtown, but doesn’t know if that’s in the cards.

On a recent day, Borland said he’d been to the City-County Building on business three times by 11 a.m. and expected to return a couple more times.

Borland said his office “would have to move wherever that building went. … 1,000 lawyers (could) make that same statement, and you start to see the economics of it. … It’s not a small thing.

“If they move that out to the airport, they’re going to have to build offices” for attorneys, bail bondsmen and the like, Borland said. “I’d have a hard time getting out there. I live in the city, my office is down here, and it would add an hour a day in the car for me.”

Complex jail leak 15colA jail corridor is flooded after the recent freeze burst water pipes. (Indiana Lawyer Photo/Eric Learned)

Kevin Murray, the sheriff’s counsel, said no decision has been made about the facility location, but the sheriff is open to considering various locations. “We’ll see what comes back” in proposals from developers, Murray said. “One of the big issues will be venue.

“We think consolidation makes sense, and we think that we’ll save some money,” he said, adding the complex won’t move forward without popular buy-in.

Murray said the proposal is an outgrowth of long collaboration with numerous criminal justice agencies, judges, prosecutors, public defenders and others that identified problems and worked on solutions going back to federal jail overcrowding lawsuits against former sheriffs. Murray notes the Marion County Jail went from federal oversight to correctional accreditation in just a few years.

But the current handling of arrestees is a “Rube Goldberg” system, he said. They’re brought to an arrestee processing center separate from the jail, where they may linger for hours before being taken to jail or court.

What Marion County is proposing, Murray said, would be unique in the nation and would build on the collaborative momentum that’s helped drive down the daily jail population to an average daily count of 495 below maximum.

There has been no estimate of the complex’s cost. Savings that would fund the project would come from a reduced force of deputies guarding and transporting inmates, savings on office leases, and elimination of duplicated services, among other things.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry’s office would move from rented space a block from the City-County Building to the proposed complex, as would probation offices, community corrections and other offices.

“This is an idea that’s been discussed for years now and clearly is something that needs to be addressed, and I’m 100 percent on board with the idea of a justice center” combining various functions, Curry said. “We have some concerns about the ultimate site. Like the judges, we have a significant interest in making sure any facility is easily accessible to everyone in the county.”

Curry notes many people come to the prosecutor’s office to lodge complaints, so an accessible location is critical. Some judges also have said the location of a complex would have to be such that courts are accessible to defendants and witnesses.

Accessibility concerns David Deal, too. An attorney with Voyles Zahn & Paul near the City-County Building, Deal’s practice is divided between criminal and civil law. Because civil courts will remain in the City-County Building, he’s looking at the prospect of having to juggle appearances in two courthouses if the complex is built.

“I’d become a lot more in favor of it if they keep it in the core of the city for access for litigants and also for access for attorneys,” Deal said.

He also worries that attorneys with long leases to fulfill near the building could be in a fix if courts move far from their current location. “If you recently renewed a five- or 10-year lease, you’re going to be in tough condition.”

If a complex were built far away from downtown, it could lead to an exodus from offices near the City-County Building, Deal said. “I think that could hurt downtown Indianapolis.”

Officials who announced the complex noted it could free up prime downtown real estate that could give the city an economic boost. Jail 1 at 40 S. Alabama St., and Jail 2 at 730 E. Washington St., sit on property valued at more than $17 million, officials said.

Borland believes the complex belongs in the mile square of downtown Indianapolis. “I just can’t imagine taking it out of the downtown core is going to be helpful to the litigants in those cases,” he said. “Those are, for the most part, the poor people in our community. … Going 10 miles further is a big deal to them."


    I don't care where they move as long as STARS Sandwich Market stays downtown and stays in business.
  • Market Square "Justice"?
    I as well am NOT totally "On-Board" with the two proposed sites (Old Air-Port -or- Old Chevrolet Plant) A few friends and I have long discussed and advocated a "Consolidated Criminal Justice Center/Complex". It "irks" me every time that I need to go to the City-County building for other then this "Criminal-business" that I and my personal effects are subjected to an almost "strip search" in order to gain access to the building. I remember when the "searches" were only required when accessing the West Wing of the building where the Judges were "Paranoid" to fulfill their elected positions' duties. My suggestion is that the "Under/Unused" site of the [former] Market Square Arena could be developed in to the desired facility. There could be several sub-ground levels, and how many floors at ground and above the site could support boggles my mind. And who can dispute the "proximity" issue?
  • Get it out of here
    The jail hurts business on that side of downtown. And bailbonds business shouldn't be the backbone of a great downtown. Every day I see inmates leave the lockout pee on the streets and then walk around downtown. The jail should not be located in the downtown. Sorry that some people have move their offices, but this is better for the community.
  • Downtown Solution
    They should just retrofit the the current city county building and One Indiana Square next to the federal courthouse to upgrade & separate the cities executive branch from the judicial branch.
    SO FRUSTRATING! Land development all over the downtown area even entire stadium sites and NOW a crisis has been identified that could have been prevented with forward THINKING! How can officials NOT SEE the disintegration to our city with the suggested removal of this 'core element' to the structure and support of MANY agencies, businesses, and downtown communities!!! A portion of our Public transit is directed to the city for these services; access by janitorial staff; food vendors and employees; service providers of equipment and supplies. These are but a small percentage of services and citizens who work for them who will be adversely effected both Immediately and long term! Throughout history the records show how major cities have always developed and expanded from the central point of city services and government! THIS solution is Not 'the solution' - go back to the drawing board boys!
  • downtown is best
    I couldn't agree more with Borland and Deal. It seems the Mayor's office might be thinking about utilizing existing Airport land as a priority for land reuse, as opposed for what is best for existing downtown economics. Abandoning downtown for a suburban site could be the same as shooting one shelf in the foot while aiming at the mole in the ground. Yes, the airport land does need a reuse, but a near downtown site should out rule the massive negative impact of leaving, especially if the civil courts are staying. I honestly thing the civil courts should also leave the CC Building. There is enough land at the GM White River site and even on this side of the River at the Diamond Chain, and nearby properties KY Ave. properties. I still think we need to move IMPD with the whole Justice move. IMPD doesn't even have parking for their own employees and on duty officers making stops at HQ.

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