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Indy organizations opposing proposed jail complex

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A new group is standing up to oppose Mayor Joe Hogsett’s justice campus proposal.

“No New Jail Indianapolis", a coalition of several social justice organization held its first community meeting Sunday afternoon.

Six months after the mayor first proposed the justice center complex, momentum appears to be swinging in favor of the mayor’s proposed justice campus. The heavily Democratic city-county council already voted in favor of paying for planning costs at the last council meeting.

Some helping lead the meeting, like IU associate professor Micole Seigel, say they want to stop the proposal before it gets any closer to becoming reality.

The support for the campus, she feels, is misguided.

“People have a critique of the system and yet they are willing to build it and yet they are willing to expand it,” said Seigel.

Micole Seigel doesn’t understand how the criminal justice reform taskforce and Mayor Joe Hogsett ended up recommending a $650 million criminal justice center complex.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Seigel. “It’s so obvious that what we need are real root cause solutions and we’re unwilling because of the political trade winds to imagine those genuine solutions.”

The root causes the “No New Jail Indianapolis” group identifies are mental illness, addiction, access to jobs and lack of educational opportunities.

“Being in education, knowing that we’re closing schools and opening up a jail, definitely sparked my interest,” said Mariah Ivey, an educator at Renaissance School, an alternative school for Warren Central High School.

Along with others at the meeting, Ivey questions the priorities of the administration. She sees officials committing more and more money to police and jails and less to funds that could support programming to keep more people out of jails.

"It’s detrimental," said Ivey. "It’s devastating to know that that’s happening, so I’m just really in a place where I want to know what we can do, what we can bring to these areas."

Education and the other root causes of crime are ironically the same issues that led to Hogsett proposing the plan the group disagrees with.

“The question is not, ‘How many jail beds do we need?’” stated Hogsett in his speech announcing the proposal last December. “The question is, rather, ‘How many jail beds can we avoid?’”

By putting the jail, a medical facility, public defenders and courts all in one place, Hogsett’s hope is that they can divert people with addiction and mental health problems to treatment instead of jail.

“The time has come for us to meaningfully identify non-violent low level offenders suffering from serious mental illnesses and drug addiction,” Hogsett also said at the December press conference. “We must enhance our ability to divert them from the criminal justice system and provide them the treatment they desperately need from health care professionals.”

But Seigel says she's skeptical of the setup because those people still have to be enmeshed in the criminal justice system to get help.

"How can they seem to understand that in fact mass incarceration has failed, the Drug War has failed, our healthcare system desperately needs solutions for people with mental health problems and regular, physical health problems and yet, only see solutions that come through the form of a jail or a police force?" asked Seigel rhetorically with a sign of frustration. "It doesn’t make sense to me."

Seigel also wonders whether connecting these treatment services with the justice system, instead of making them readily available throughout the community well before someone commits a crime is the best path. She fears a level of coercion will be attached to any treatment, since people will have to take the option to avoid jail time.

She and others at the meeting, believe the money spent building the justice complex would be better spent on proactive treatment programs, accessible across the city.

“Until we start to come up with those preventative measures and until we start to invest in these communities, we’re always going to have an overpopulated prison system,” said Ivey.

Ivey and others want to see the city support more measures like the food distribution program IMPD recently brought back. They acknowledged that effort’s previous contribution in reducing the homicide rate.

Similar initiatives, they believe, will prevent many people from ever committing crimes.

“I do believe that everyone who has lost a loved one to gun violence or anything violent or violent acts, they absolutely deserve justice,” said Ivey. “However, if we’re not attacking poverty and going into these communities that lack of all of these different things, then of course we’re just feeding people into the prison system.”

The group is now starting to work on getting its message out to city-county councillors and people living in Indy.

They encourage anyone with questions about Hogsett’s plans or their opposition, to stop by city-council meetings like the one tomorrow and their meetings on Tuesdays. They take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the John Boner Center at 2236 East 10th St.