Church leaders push for 'Jobs, not Jails'

October 18, 2014 | RTV6 | link to article

INDIANAPOLIS - Church leaders have a message for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard: The city needs more jobs, not more jails.

Leaders from 17 faith denominations filled the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church this week to talk about redemption and second chances. Members of IndyCAN believe Marion County should not be overcrowding jails with low-level, non-violent offenders, those awaiting trials and detained illegal immigrants.

"Not everybody deserves to be there," said Cynthia Torres, whose mother was deported. "They all need a second chance. Because, like my mother, she wasn't charged with anything, but she was in there for three months until ICE took her."

IndyCAN believes the $450 million slated to be spent on a proposed Criminal Justice Complex should be spent instead on jobs and re-entry programs. Their message is that jobs, not jails, end crime.

"We're talking about building a half a billion dollar jail and hiring many more police officers, a model that has proven not to work to slow down crime," said John Rowell, an ex-offender. "The only thing that we want, like myself, I just want an opportunity to prove that I'm not the person you think I am."

The proposed Criminal Justice Complex would include facilities for the Marion County Sheriff's Office, judges, prosecutors and public defenders, as well as increasing jail space by 1,000 beds.

IndyCAN volunteers are now taking their message door to door, hoping to meet with 10,000 potential voters.

"We have 127,000 ex-felons in Marion County," Rowell said. "Five thousand return every year. We need to be focusing on how to get these people to work. Because many of the criminals aren't the monsters we're made out to be."

The mayor's office says the new Criminal Justice Complex has been in the works for more than 30 years and is completely separate from the mayor's plan to fight crime. That plan includes his "Your Life Matters" initiative, the "My Brother's Keeper" challenge and funding for pre-kindergarten education to address the root of the crime problem.

The Indianapolis City-County Council still has to approve the proposed Criminal Justice Complex. If they do so in early 2015, it could be completed by 2018.