As Indianapolis faces another jail overcrowding crisis, Mayor Joe Hogsett is moving ahead in his quest to reform the city’s criminal justice system.
Hogsett announced in his first State of the City address on Wednesday night that he had signed an executive order to create a new criminal justice task force, charging it to make recommendations for a new Marion County Jail and other “comprehensive” reforms.
The task force would send its plans to the city’s Criminal Justice Planning Council for adoption before the end of this year, according to Hogsett remarks released to IBJ ahead of the speech.
“This will require hard decisions,” Hogsett said, citing the city’s $50 million structural deficit. “It will require unprecedented cooperation. And it will require government to change, to grow smaller, to work smarter, and to do more with less.”
“These recommendations will include a new jail, but unlike plans of the past, they will not be limited to that,” Hogsett said in a draft of the remarks. “They will look at, and create a comprehensive plan of reform for our entire criminal justice system—from prevention, mental health, and drug addiction to arrest, pre-trial detention, community corrections and sentencing.”
The announcement comes as the city struggles with jail overcrowding. Sheriff John Layton declared a jail emergency on April 26. Hogsett said the city’s criminal justice system had room for just 49 more inmates. The city faced a similar problem about a decade ago.
“We cannot pass this problem to another generation, and we cannot afford to allow yet another crisis five, or 10, or 15 years from now,” Hogsett said. “We must confront this crisis now and we must make it last.”
While Hogsett said planning for a new jail is important, he said it is “not sufficient” because of the large percentages of inmates who have mental illnesses or suffer from substance abuse or addiction—30 percent and 85 percent, respectively.
He urged the city to put a new emphasis on offering treatment to non-violent inmates who suffer from mental illnesses, and to “expand diversion and addiction treatment for non-violent drug offenders.”
“A new building will not solve our crime problems,” Hogsett said. “The time has come for holistic, data-driven, and far-reaching reform in our criminal justice process.”
Hogsett took office in January, after a campaign focusing squarely on public safety.
Former Mayor Greg Ballard made creating a criminal justice complex a major priority of his second term. A developer was chosen for the project, which would consolidate several disparate downtown facilities and move operations to the grounds of the former General Motors stamping plant just west of downtown.
The complex was to house juvenile and adult detention facilities, adding 1,000 beds to the current maximum population of 2,507. It also would have been home to criminal courts; prosecutor, public defender and probation offices; and practically all related county criminal-justice offices.
Critics scoffed at the $1.6 billion price tag over 35 years and claims that the project would be budget-neutral. It was first quashed in April 2015 by the City-County Council's Rules Committee after an analysis of the deal asserted the city could face shortfalls over the next 10 years of up to $37 million in trying to pay for the facility.
Some said the matter was best left until after the election so the new mayor would have a chance to vet the partnership. In mid-June, the council decided not to consider a revised justice center plan that would have reduced the construction cost
Hogsett said during his campaign that he would use “due diligence” from Ballard’s administration to shape his plans.