Mayor Hogsett works to find money to pay for criminal justice system reform

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Mayor Joe Hogsett.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett thinks he has a good idea how much it will cost to rebuild and relocate Marion County’s antiquated criminal justice system.

Now he has to figure out how to pay for it.

Hogsett’s Criminal Justice reform Task Force has released an analysis that pegs the cost of construction of a criminal justice center campus at $565-575 million with another $74 million invested in renovation of several related city and county agency sites.

Corporation Counsel Andy Mallon listed the facilities that would be constructed on the site of the former Citizens Energy Coke Plant on East Prospect Street.

“The first is an assessment and intervention center for mental health and addiction assessments and treatment. The second being a consolidated jail. The third being a courthouse with what we recommended for civil, criminal, circuit court and juvenile court.”

The high end estimate approaches the cost of the $750 million Lucas Oil Stadium and Indiana Convention Center expansion of a decade ago and outpaces a $408 million plan by previous Mayor Greg Ballard to have a private developer build and lease to the city a more modest campus on Indianapolis’ near westside.

“One big difference is the courthouse,” said Mallon. “They only proposed to move the criminal courthouse. We’re proposing to remove the criminal courthouse, the civil courthouse, juvenile courts and the circuit court. That’s a 70-percent increase in the size of the courthouse.”

The Hogsett courthouse component would cost $195 million but provide better security, more convenience and a unified delivery of criminal justice services, if all the judges agree to the move.

The latest proposal would contain approximately 3000 jail beds, compared to the 2507 beds that Sheriff John Layton currently oversees in Marion County, but sets aside some space for mental illness and addiction arrestees who would be housed in less secure locations focused on treatment.

“What this assessment and intervention center is intended to do is have actual mental health and addiction clinicians on site so that they can do diagnosis of undiagnosed mental illness,” said Mallon. “They can medically supervise detox and then at the same time begin treatment and develop treatment and ultimately refer those suffering mental illness issues and addiction issues to additional service providers to get ongoing long term care.”

Mallon said similar existing facilities such as the recently opened Reuben Engagement Center on the second floor of the Arrestee Processing Center could be repurposed for other county agencies such as the crime lab, coroners office or police property room.

Consolidating and moving agencies into newly vacated municipally owned properties would allow the city to escape leases at privately owned buildings, saving $35 million a year in already budgeted costs.

“I believe that number will get larger and we will be able to find more funding and savings as we design the project and value engineer the project and identify other funding,” said Mallon.

Marion County Republican Party Executive Director Joey Fox blasted the Hogsett cost estimates when compared to the Ballard plan of 2015.

“Mayor Hogsett has taken the last year of delay to decide to spend $242 million more on construction,” read a statement Fox issued hours after the Hogsett estimate was released, “with no plan for operations and maintenance.”

The Ballard proposal would have had taxpayers spending $45 million a year for 35 years, at an eventual total cost of $1.75 billion, before Marion County would own the building in 2053.

The plan by the Ballard administration, which was an attempt to build Marion County out of its criminal justice crisis as opposed to also enacting comprehensive reforms, failed when both democrats and republicans refused to support it.

“The Ballard project was 100% privately financed. Some of their investors were getting as much as eleven percent interest on their investment,” said Mallon who claimed that the previous plan, developed and negotiated with little public notice, assumed developers would profit in the long run by charging a maximum rate for operations and maintenance which county crews can accomplish at a lower cost.

The Hogsett task force has until March 31 to reveal its financing recommendations for the project while stakeholders review their site needs.

“Public financing is where you get tax exempt financing and it’s a great incentive that means that public owners can build things at much cheaper interest rates…than a private developer can borrow money at,” said Mallon. “You could have a different funding mechanism for the jail than for the courthouse.

“There will not be a tax increase.”