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City-County Council Committee Pans Justice Center Plan

April 15, 2015 | WFYI | Link to Article

A City-County council committee voted Tuesday night not to advance Mayor Greg Ballard’s $1.7 billion plan to consolidate all of the county’s jails, sheriff’s offices and courts on the site of the old GM Stamping plant near downtown.

The plan relies on a public-private partnership with WMB Heartland Partners to design, build and run the justice center for 35 years. Council vice chairman John Barth says the county can do better.

"I don’t believe that we have to pay an entity for 35 years -- too much – more than $200 million more than we should – to offload the risk. We can manage the risk ourselves. I believe in our city and the capacity of our citizens to do it ourselves," Barth said.

Ballard has said that the plan would pay for itself through efficiencies and new revenue, but a council report found that the justice center could run a shortfall of as much as $37 million in the first few years.

Business and labor groups spoke in favor of building the new justice center, citing job creation and new business opportunity. But members of the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network – IndyCAN – packed the committee room in a show of opposition. Members like John Rikard want a scaled-back jail plan and more resources for alternatives to incarceration.

"We’re not against building a new jail. The city of Indianapolis needs a new jail. What we want is a comprehensive plan that addresses substance abuse, transitional jobs, job training, mental health, alternative sentencing and pretrial sentencing. This is the council’s chance to make a difference," he said.

Ballard’s deputy chief of staff, David Rosenberg, urged the Rules and Public Policy Committee members to pass the proposal along to the full council.

“We can’t keep putting good money into bad facilities. We need to put it into programs that people like IndyCAN want to see to reduce recidivism. Our costs keep going up, and those are driven by the deficiencies within our system,” he said.

In the end, the committee voted 6 to 2 against sending the proposal to the full council.