Council approves $55 million for justice campus construction, indicates approval for final $500 million

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – With the money approved, initial construction work can soon begin on Indy’s new justice campus.

The proposal passed unanimously Monday night, despite an even split among Marion County residents who testified.

Dozens crowded into the council chamber, both for and against the jail.

Nearly every supporter came from the Twin Aire neighborhood where the jail will be built. They argued building the justice campus will help revitalize their neighborhood by providing and attracting jobs.

“It’s not going to be just a jail,” said Brenda McAtee, the Twin Aire Neighborhood Coalition chair. “With that that and other commercial buildings and retail put in and stuff, I see a lot going in on the south side.”

But opponents say research shows jails and so-called “justice campuses” don’t do much to end poverty, but instead contribute to it.

“What they’re saying is let’s break the cycle of poverty by building prisons,” said Christopher Abert, a member of the No New Jail Coalition. “And again we know from looking at the history that that doesn’t happen.”

Both McAtee and corporation counsel Andy Mallon pointed to the interventions the jail will provide for those struggling with mental health treatment as one measure to help end the cycle of recidivism and get help to those who need it.

“All the facilities, all the programming, all the financing is based out of the idea that we need to reform our criminal justice system first and build facilities that respond to those reforms, not simply build a bunch of facilities for an old system,” said Mallon. “Rather, what does a new system need to look like, that better serves those with mental health and addiction so that they can avoid the criminal justice system altogether?”

The No New Jail Coalition though argues this system doesn’t allow those with mental health issues to avoid the criminal justice system. In fact, they say the only way to get help, is to be entangled in the criminal justice system.

They also argue that people, forced to choose between jail and treatment, may not be ready for the latter and thus won’t do as well upon release as if they had sought treatment themselves.

“There’s this idea that the criminal justice system is going to solve our social problems and I don’t know of any evidence that ever points in that direction,” said Abert.

Despite testimony to that effect, the councilors all voted to approve the $55 million proposal.

That funding will, in part, go toward site preparation and help get the ball rolling on construction.

City officials have quoted the full price tag around $571 million.

They have repeatedly said financing will not require a tax increase, as they expect to utilize money they already spend yearly on the jail and savings from running the jail and courts system more efficiently.