When yet another media story appears about jail overcrowding, it's tempting to look away, to focus instead on rising gas prices, out-of-control health insurance costs or other pressing problems confronting your company.
But make no mistake: Crime is a business issue. And it is escalating. Major offenses reported to the Indianapolis Police Department through April were up 22 percent over the first four months of 2005.
Probably fueling that increase are the growing numbers of inmates being released early from jail: 2,168 in the first half of this year alone, up 21 percent from last year.
It doesn't take many national news stories about prematurely released criminals abusing 4-year-old girls to tarnish our city's appeal as a place to live, host conventions and locate a company.
"Where there's crimescene tape, there are not construction barriers being put up," former Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman told IBJ late last year. "Where criminals are stealing copper pipes and appliances out of new homes, you're not going to have as many new homes built."
That's why businesspeople should care about jail overcrowding. And why they should step up to help find a solution.
There has been some progress. The Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council's vote Aug. 1 to recommend renting 200 jail beds for six months was a smart decision that the City-County Council would be wise to ratify at its meeting Aug. 7. But it's purely a short-term fix.
There is broad agreement that the long-term solution is making the wheels of justice turn faster. Cases need to proceed more quickly so that inmates spend less time in the county lockup.
To grease those wheels, we need more judges, attorneys and clerks. And we need to pay them better, so that they stick around a few years. A long-delayed justice center would add needed space, improve efficiency and keep chain gangs away from the public. Maybe, as discussed in a story on page1, privatization of jails would save some money that could be reallocated to the courts.
Public-private cooperation is often touted as one of our city's strengths. Without it, would we have Unigov, Circle Centre mall, our amateur sports prowess or a new football stadium under construction?
The $79 million needed for a justice center pales in comparison to the $625 million price tag for Lucas Oil Stadium. Why can't we apply to our criminal justice problems some of the political will and creativity we have used to launch other success stories? The business community should be a visible and vocal partner with elected officials in tackling this challenge.
As attorney John Maley, co-chairman of the Justice Center Task Force, said in an IBJ story early this year, "We can't talk about how much this is going to cost. What's it going to cost if we don't do this?"
None of us can afford to find out.
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