Media

Hogsett calls for justice reform

December 21th, 2016 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett was met with an applauding and receptive crowd of community leaders when he announced a plan for criminal justice reform that he called "bold in its conception and immense in its scope."

It was an auspicious beginning for the proposed overhaul of the county's courts and public safety strategy. Police, prosecutors, pastors and high-ranking officials crowded into the former city hall building downtown on Monday afternoon. They cheered as Hogsett promised to provide treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, rather than throwing the afflicted in jail.

Now comes the hard part.

In the coming months, Hogsett's administration is tasked with outlining plans for financing the reform -- which includes a new jail along with an assessment facility that focuses on mental health -- and selecting a location for the new criminal justice campus. A task force report on the project estimates that the reforms will save about $35 million a year with the elimination of inefficient practices in the jail and elsewhere, but the up-front costs — which as of yet are undetermined — as well as the financing model, will be a major focus for the City-County Council.

Some council members on both sides of the aisle have expressed cautious support for the plan while awaiting the projected price tag. The Marion County Republican Party on Monday, though, decried the proposal's lack of a cost, location and financing plan, and blamed Democrats for last year's failure of a proposed justice center by former Mayor Greg Ballard.

"The need for meaningful criminal justice reform is evident in the headlines we read every day and in the scenes we see in our neighborhoods. Only leadership and action will address those problems," said a statement from Joey Fox, executive director of the Marion County Republican Party. "Another glossy report that delays action just doesn't stand up."

But faith leaders who have fought mass incarceration in Indianapolis called Hogsett's proposal a "major victory."

"As concerned citizens and religious leaders, we believe that Hogsett’s plan sets a high moral standard of dignity and respect that can make Indiana proud,” said Rev. Kenneth Sullivan, Jr., a pastor involved with the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network, which has long drawn attention to problems in the Marion County Jail.  “As people of faith, we have a sacred obligation to care for those that suffer. We will continue solutions that put wholeness, healing and dignity in the center."

Hogsett's proposal joins plans for a new jail with reforms that aim to help people who are in and out of the criminal justice system because of addiction and mental illness. It is the result of a months-long study by a task force commissioned by Hogsett, and follows months of problems with overcrowding in the three facilities that make up the Marion County Jail.

The new jail would contain 2,600 to 3,000 beds, and be located next to the proposed Marion County Assessment and Intervention Center, where individuals would be assessed for mental health and substance abuse problems. They could receive short-term detoxification and crisis behavioral health treatment.

In his speech, Hogsett emphasized the need to not only address the supply of drugs from dealers who perpetuate much of the gun violence that wreaks havoc on city streets, but also fix the problem of the demand -- the drug users who need help kicking the addiction. He pitched the reform as both cost-saving and life-saving.

"The question is not how many jail beds do we need," Hogsett told the crowd. "The question is how many jail beds can we avoid."

Hogsett also on Monday introduced his plan to the county's Criminal Justice Planning Council. The group, chaired by Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, took the report under advisement and will discuss at its January meeting.

Up next, Hogsett's task force faces a series of deadlines in 2017 related to the project. It will make recommendations for the location of the new jail on Jan. 31, and complete a cost estimate by Feb. 28.