INDIANAPOLIS — The new Community Justice Campus will soon open its doors for the new Marion County jail and civil and criminal courts.
Right now, final preparations are underway as authorities plan the move of inmates to the nearly $570 million facility located on Indianapolis’ southeast side in the Twin Aire neighborhood.
According to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), all inmates are expected to be transferred to the facility by the end of the first week in February. For security reasons, specific dates of when inmates will be moved have not been made public.
Right now, there are 1,143 inmates in Jail 1, 969 in Jail 2 and 98 in the City County Building, for a total of 2,210. The current combined capacity between the three facilities for inmates is 2,501.
The new Adult Detention Center at the Community Justice Campus will have the capacity to hold up to nearly 3,000 inmates, including 2,700 in general population and 300 specialty beds. This year, the sheriff’s office projects it will house around 2,400 inmates.
With the opening of the new jail comes several goals of improved quality of life for inmates and staff, as well as being able to provide more secure, humane living conditions for inmates.
“We built that with the goal in mind to not only improve the quality of life for the inmates but give the staff a more quality work environment,” said Colonel James Martin of the MCSO.
Right now, the MCSO faces a staffing deficit of 220 people, including detention deputies, deputies, and civilians. Martin says there are several ways the new advances in the jail will help as they face this shortfall, but he hopes with the new center will come retention and encourage people to seek positions with MCSO.
“We’re trying to bring everything to them in this housing unit that they need in hopes of a couple things. One, if you’ve got a more satisfied or more occupied inmate, then they’re easier to manage and it’s less strain on staff,” said Martin. “The other thing that we did was we tried to reduce the workload of all of our staff to reduce that stress and we believe we’re doing that with some of the technology.”
“The building doesn’t take up any low pay that we’re still fighting for and we’re dealing with that, but the hope is that we’re hoping to look at this time next year and see if there is a reduction in that attrition rate on our staff. Hopefully next year it’s not 40%,” he added.
Added security and advanced technology in new jail
As the new Community Justice Campus opens for business, it will feature state-of-the-art technology that those involved in the project’s development and the MCSO said will enhance safety measures for inmates and staff.
Some of those steps being taken are a move to 100% digital communication, including the elimination of physical paper correspondence for inmates, the move to track all inmates electronically using a radio frequency identification (RFID) arm band, and electronic logs for all jail events, which include headcounts, clock-rounds and feedings.
Every three seconds, an inmate’s location will ping so staff will know where everyone is at all times and it will help in situations where, for example, a nurse is looking for a specific inmate to administer medications to make for easier tracking. Staff will also be tracked electronically throughout the facility.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do is if it took staff to input data, we tried to figure out a way that it automatically happened that it didn’t have to take care of that, so if I scanned an arm band and fed you, I did not have to run back to a computer and log that I fed you,” said Martin. “Instead of making log entries for our corrections staff, I want them watching inmates and doing security things. I don’t want them being forced down to a computer and if we could automate some of that, we did.”
Moving from paper requests to digital requests for circumstances including needing a chaplain, a program, medical or mental health assistance, the MCSO said will not only allow for better tracking and monitoring, but also help increase response times to inmates.
“We’ve automated transactions with the courts, prosecutors, we’re looking to automate things straight from the arrest side coming in. Just that information exchange and that development in technology that kind of reduces the burden on your staff and puts them back to their core mission of security and maintaining inmates and keeping people safe,” Martin added.
Another step to enhance security started long before the anticipated move to the new center. As the MCSO has seen an increase in attempted drug trafficking targeting the county jail, it has taken steps to combat it and deter people from engaging in the activity and warn of the consequences that come with it. Those efforts have resulted in criminal cases, more than 20 arrests and 15 convictions in the last three years.
“We’ve got a great investigative team that stays on that. We know that our inmate population knows a move is somewhat coming. They don’t know when. They are making desperate attempts to try and get stuff in or get stuff over here and we’ve taken extra steps,” said Martin. “If you do, we are criminally prosecuting for that. Watch out. If you’re outsiders helping people on the inside, you’re going to prosecuted too.”
Some of the new technologies and tactics that will be utilized in the new jail include full-body scanners that detect foreign objects inside inmates, audio and visual surveillance equipment to monitor inmate phone calls and activities, more K9 narcotic detection activity and less inmate presence in public areas.
“This building has a lot better cameras than our old ones, has a lot less places to hide, you’re not going to be able to tear pieces of this building apart to get contraband in, and even to that, warn everybody. If it’s the public, if it’s staff, whoever, you will be prosecuted and you will be caught,” said Martin. “There’s not too many places in this building that we don’t have very good cameras on you that we can’t find things out.”
Improved quality of life for inmates
In an effort to make living conditions more humane for inmates, the new jail features inmate classrooms in each housing unit, as well as fresh air recreational spaces for inmates that are accessible within the unit.
MCSO is also aiming to improve communication to attorneys and families, so each housing unit is also equipped with video court rooms, for a total of 65 throughout the facility. Between Jail 1 and Jail 2 right now, there are only a total of 6 video court rooms.
Something that may seem simple, like a move to silent doors throughout the facility, MCSO staff said will provide significant improvements when it comes to checking on inmates, especially during late or overnight hours.
“Half of the building was built in 1965, the other half of the building was built in 1985. If you walk around our current jail right now, 24 hours a day, anytime we want to go open a door, all you would hear is a bunch of clanging, banging, buzzing, loud,” said Martin, who described how that is all inmates hear 24 hours a day with the current jail setup.
Additional steps within housing units were also taken during the design of the new jail to create a more humane living environment. Some of these steps included choosing color schemes and natural lighting that coincided with those goals.
Enhanced mental and physical health services
The new jail takes focus on increasing mental and physical health services for inmates, including more modern medical facilities.
The jail’s new infirmary is equipped with exam rooms, a radiology room, a dental suite and physical therapy room. It also includes a space for any inmates needing dialysis treatment, several negative pressure isolation rooms, and 32 hospital beds for inmates.
The MCSO is taking extra steps to prioritize mental health assessment and treatment for inmates in the new facility. One of the newly announced additions to the center will be suicide prevention advocates.
“One of the things that we teach our staff and our detention deputies is, if you cross by a cell and see someone who seems to be acting normal, maybe a little bit of pain, if that was your mom or your loved one or your cousin, something tells me you would stop in there and check and make sure that they’re alright and if you left you may come back and check on them,” said Martin.
So, with staffing challenges and everything going on with the move to the new campus, Sheriff Forestal came up with a concept to hire people to focus on doing exactly this.
“They’re going to mingle with our population and they’re there to solve problems. They’re there to identify if somebody is sitting in a corner crying, they’re going to go follow up to find out what is going on, or if you are sweating or you’re looking in some sort of distress, what’s going on with you,” Martin explained.
So far, around 10 to 12 people have been interviewed to fill these positions, which will be full time.
“We have a lot of our population that is detoxing and withdrawing through opioids, narcotics, alcohol abuse. If you look through the history of some of our unfortunate events, these are the people that are hurting themselves, these are the people that we’re trying to get to,” said Martin.
“Not all of these people come into jail and they tell us that they’re hurting. They’re mingling out there, so that’s what this core group is to do, to go out into the population, find those people that haven’t self identified and let’s get them out of the housing unit, let’s get them to medical, let’s get them to mental health, let’s get them in front of a doctor, let’s get them in front of a chaplain if that’s what they’re needing at the time and hopefully it’s going to help reduce our suicide rate,” Martin said.
There is also a Medication Assisted Treatment Program as well as Narcan vending machines for inmates leaving the prison and returning to the community. Those aren’t the only programs geared towards these services at the Community Justice Campus.
In December of 2020, the $13.8 million Assessment and Intervention Center opened on the grounds shared by the new jail and court building. Since it became operational, the AIC has received 2,419 referrals and conducted more than 1,700 assessments of people for mental, behavioral health and substance abuse issues.
The new Community Justice Campus will operate on the grounds of prioritizing assessment and treatment over incarceration, especially for those who struggle with mental health or substance abuse disorders. The recommendations to do so come from Mayor Hogsett’s Criminal Justice Task Force, launched in 2016.
The need for the new jail and courthouse was a long-had discussion among Indianapolis leadership and involved looking at how to begin reforming the criminal justice system as a whole. One step towards that was to create a space that allowed for the collaboration of the courts, jail and other programs to take a holistic approach.
No new taxes were levied to pay for the facilities on the Community Justice Campus. In 2019, the Indianapolis Bond Bank and Building Authority issued bonds to generate project funds. The annual debt service, approximately $37.5 million, will come from savings created by consolidating facilities, the city said.
No date has been announced for the move to the courts. City officials tell FOX59 they are working closely with court officials to make that determination.
Hopes for more revitalization in neighborhood, surrounding communities
The new campus is built on the grounds of the former Citizens Energy Group coke plant, located in Twin Aire near the intersection of Southeastern Avenue, Pleasant Run Parkway and Prospect Street, and had been sitting vacant since 2007.
The city said overwhelming neighborhood support for redeveloping the site led to the decision to choose this as the location for the new Community Justice Campus.
City leaders and community members hope the opening of the Community Justice Campus and more people making their way to the area to work or utilize services, will help breathe more life into the Twin Aire and surrounding neighborhoods, like Norwood.
“There’s negatives and then there’s positives. The negative is really, some people don’t like change. That’s okay, you know, people get in their comfort zone,” said Brenda McAtee, President of the Norwood Neighborhood Association.
McAtee said she is thrilled to welcome the new facility to the area and believes it will be a step towards revitalizing the neighborhood of Norwood she calls home, and its neighboring Twin Aire community where the Community Justice Center is located.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to happen and I’m so excited because there’s going to be a lot of pop shops and a lot of restaurants. It’s going to be very good for the economy, for everybody, you know where we can be able to take our seniors to sit down and eat without going across town,” said McAtee.
“I see so much happening and I’m hoping that there will be more business to come here,” McAtee added.
In addition to the hope for a booming economy and breathing more life into neighborhood businesses, McAtee said she is hopeful for the future of the housing market in the surrounding areas. She believes having the Community Justice Campus on the southeast side will encourage more people to seek housing opportunities in the area.
“I feel very positive, uplifting for young people that’s married and need a home where they can raise their kids,” she said.
“We’re building more homes in our community, in Norwood. SEND, Southeast Neighborhood Development is building new homes as we speak,” said McAtee. “That’s exciting because more new people will come in and hopefully you know the children will get to meet all different kinds of culturally enriched kids.”
As an advocate for children and equal opportunities, McAtee said she’s also hopeful that this brings more jobs to the area and provides opportunities for more young people to get involved.
She is hopeful this is a first step towards more beautification and a positive sign of the times to come on the southeast side.
“I see so much coming and I would like, and I would hope that everybody here in our community and on the surrounding east side will get involved because if everybody worked together it would come out beautiful,” she said.
Next steps for the Community Justice Campus
City leaders said the Community Justice Campus has always been planned out as a multi-phased project to help accomplish neighborhood-led redevelopment priorities. On Friday, they described their plans moving forward, including several additional infrastructure pieces.
- Structured parking facilities are being designed, in addition to the ground lots already built, and construction will begin this year
- Construction slated for a professional building that will house the Public Defender and Probation Department on the Professional Campus across the creek
- A Youth and Family Services Center is being designed on the south end of the campus on prospect
- Coroner and forensic facilities are being designed for construction across from Prospect Street
The city noted that all of these projects are included in the 140-acre footprint that Indianapolis acquired from Citizens Energy Group in 2017.