Hogsett eyes new jail, focus on mental health in criminal justice system

Indianapolis' mayor is proposing construction of a new jail and changes to the local criminal justice system to place a greater emphasis on assessing inmates for mental illness and substance abuse problems.

Mayor Joe Hogsett's proposal would tap mental health professionals and law enforcement to assess people for mental illness and substance abuse and divert some of them from jail into treatment. Social workers and paramedics would also team with police officers to help the most troubled and vulnerable.

"It will profoundly change the way justice is dispensed," Hogsett, a former federal prosecutor, told The Indianapolis Star.

The Democrat will outline his more than 100-page plan Monday afternoon during an address before Marion County's Criminal Justice Planning Council.

Several of the proposals have been in the works for months in response to the growing reliance on law enforcement officials to handle issues of mental illness, addiction and poverty as part of their mission to battle crime and violence.

The Marion County Sheriff's Office declared the county's jail system to be in "crisis mode" in May, lacking sufficient beds to house inmates.

Within days of the sheriff's office's comments, Hogsett announced his intention for a new jail. The first-term mayor, who took office in January, then created a task force to study all facets of criminal justice, and those findings form the basis for his proposals.

Marion County can currently hold 2,500 inmates. But Hogsett's office is drafting plans for a new jail that would combine the county's three existing lockups under one roof, creating room for 2,600 to 3,000 people.

The mayor's office plans to have a cost estimate for the proposed new jail completed by Feb. 28, and a finance and construction plan by March 31.

Hogsett's predecessor, Republican Greg Ballard, had proposed building a new jail and criminal justice center, but that plan collapsed amid concerns over its $1.75 billion price tag and the public-private financing model.

Hogsett's administration has said the jail is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but the mayor has vowed not to raise taxes to pay for the project.

"It's never a good time to build a new jail," said Councilman Leroy Robinson, a Democrat who chairs the public safety committee. "But when it's being implemented with a strategic plan for overall criminal justice reform, it is more palatable."

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