Talks underway for new jail project in Marion County

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 9, 2016)-- When the Ballard administration proposed a Criminal Justice Center, the project included a jail, sheriff’s office, infirmary, courts building and office space for assorted agencies.

The $500 million proposal would have been financed up front by the developer whose costs would have been recouped in higher lease payments totaling more than $1.5 billion over thirty years when the city would have accepted the keys to the complex.

“One of the things that was the ultimate death of the last project was that the financing just wasn’t realistic,” said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, “and I think that gets us back to the point where we are now which is, lets figure out how we build a new jail, we desperately need a new jail, and then we will address the other agencies and the courts in some other manner.”

Curry chairs the Criminal Justice Planning Council which is already hearing presentations on a new scaled back project that will lead to recommendations to Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“Any project that’s discussed going forward would be much more limited in scale and ultimately could involve nothing more than construction of a jail,” said Curry after the Council’s meeting Monday afternoon. “Any new jail facility will have modern video capabilities so a lot of proceedings will be done by way of video from the jail as opposed to transporting arrestees back and forth for every single hearing such as initial hearings, pre-trials, that sort of thing.”

The current Marion County Jail is fifty years old and constantly at near-capacity levels.

Sheriff’s deputies must walk chained defendants through crowded hallways in the presence of the general public at the City County Building on the way to court presenting a safety and security dilemma.

Curry said a more modest project that would focus solely on the needs of the sheriff’s office would be more in line with the city’s traditional budget and construction practices while potentially locating the jail miles away from downtown Indianapolis where property is cheaper and security enhanced.

“The courts need to be accessible to the entire county,” he said. “The jail, maybe not so much.”

The prosecutor said the courts could remain in the City County Building in a remodeled configuration or in some other location.

The discarded plans of Mayor Greg Ballard still cost taxpayers $12 million to compensate three developers for their unsuccessful bids.

“We certainly want to take advantage of the hard work that’s been done,” said Mayor Hogsett. “I mean, after all, it's been paid for and I want the taxpayers to get their money’s worth. I don’t want to start over and reinvent the wheel. I want to take what has been done use it to our advantage and make decisions accordingly. Where it's located, how it's located and what shape it takes is going to depend on all stakeholders’ involvement.”

Curry said by mid-summer substantive talks addressing those needs will be held providing a framework for the Hogsett Administration to put forth not only a proposal but also a plan to pay for it.