Council OKs $55M for initial justice center construction

The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday unanimously voted to spend $55 million to pay for initial construction costs on the city’s new criminal justice center.

In the same vote, it also gave approval for the city to spend $4.2 million to acquire 140 acres of land from Citizens Energy Group as the site for the new jail, courthouses and mental health center. The complex will be built on the property of the former Citizens coke plant in the Twin Aire neighborhood.

The proposal also granted the council's blessing over the project, which is expected to cost $571 million. The council will have to approve future spending on the project. The proposal passed the council's administration and finance committee Jan. 16.

The $55 million in construction funding will pay for several items: $30 million to move soil that’s not amenable to build on and to create a building pad on which to build the campus; $9 million in construction management services; and $15 million for the teams that are selected to build the jail and courthouse so they can to perform initial work on the project before the rest of the financing package goes through.

The funds will be paid by the issuance of a short-term note backed by local option income tax dollars but eventually paid back by future bond proceeds, according to the city corporation counsel Andy Mallon.

The real estate deal consists of a $2.1 million initial lease with Citizens for parcels that need environmental remediation and would eventually be transferred to the city for nominal amounts, and a $2.1 million acquisition of other parcels that are expected to be developed for community purposes later on.

The jail—which would replace the the Arrestee Processing Center, Jail I, Jail II and Hope Hall, which is inside the City-County Building—would have 2,700 general population beds and 300 specialty, mental-health focused beds.

It would also include 40,000 to 50,000 square feet for inmate education, job training, counseling and other programs.

Current facilities have room for about 2,500 inmates, but overcrowding has been an issue. The county has had to pay other jails to hold overflow inmates.

The meeting was attended by several neighborhood advocates who spoke in favor of the proposal for its possible economic development benefits. Also present were several members of the No New Jail coalition, who said they thought the project would contribute to mass incarceration.

John Alexander, who owns an Ace Hardware store in the area, said he supported the project because “we’ve gone through some tough times and some good times” in the Twin Aire neighborhood, and “they continue to stick together.”

“They’re not going at this lightheartedly,” Alexander said.

Steve Bailey, of the Twin Aire Neighborhood Coalition, said he believes the complex will provide economic development instead of leaving “140 acres of nothing,” which is what some neighbors thought would replace the coke plant.

And he said the proposal would lead to reform in the criminal justice center, though he acknowledged it's "not a cure-all" for the area's problems..

“We need more efficient facilities, better logistics, and to address substance abuse and mental health issues,” Bailey said. "We have to address all these issues."

However, Erin Marshall of the No New Jail coalition said she believed the “road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

“What we have isn’t working,” Marshall said. "There is more than one solution. If you vote 'yes,' it will be no going back.”

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