Table justice center and revisit after election

April 13, 2015 | WTHR 13 | Link to Article

INDIANAPOLIS -The proposed criminal justice center has lost the support of a major figure in city law enforcement and just before a council committee votes on the project Tuesday evening.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said it's time to back off on plans for the new facility, proposed for the site of the former GM Stamping plant on the southwest edge of downtown.

A council committee is set to vote on a contract between the city and a potential builder Tuesday evening.

"I think we have serious questions and our position is as expressed by some of the councilors, we think they should table the whole project, revisit if and determine if there's a more financially sound way to go about this," said Curry.

Curry, a Democrat, was among a bipartisan group that stood alongside the mayor as he publicly unveiled plans for the new $1.75 billion project late last year.

Curry said while he supported "the concept of a justice center, in particular a new jail," he never signed the memo of understanding, which included financial details.

He also noted that initially the projected included plains for a new jail, courts and law building to house the prosecutor, public defender and probate offices.

"As we stand here, there's not a request for proposals in place as it relates to the law building part of it and that just heightens concerns and questions we've had about it," Curry said.

On Tuesday, councilors also weighed in, demonstrating the divide within the council on the project.

"I think when you start going deeper deeper and deeper, there is reason to be concerned with how the project has been built up. So really what we need to do at the committee level is make sure the financial structure works... And the city can actually afford this enormously expensive proposal," said John Barth (D-City-County councilor).

"To me this is the right thing to do. Its good for the city. No cost to the taxpayer. And I fear that any other plan will end up being that way. So yes, I am in support of it and will end up voting that way if given a chance," said Jeff Miller (R-City-County councilor.)

Democratic Councilor Mary Moriarity Adams and Republican Ben Hunter were among the first to publicly call for holding off on any decision until after the November election, when the city chooses a new mayor. Curry said he supports doing that.

"Everyone agrees we need a new jail, but there's all these peripheral questions. Is it necessary to co-locate the courts? Has anyone ever, ever looked at the impact on the downtown economy by moving all these offices out of there, not only the direct impact on the office market but the ripple effect on the businesses that serve all the individuals that work downtown. I just think there so many questions that have never been addressed from my perspective, I think we should step back," Curry said.

Indy Chamber President and CEO Michael Huber released this statement Tuesday:

"The need for Indy's new justice center is unquestionable and we encourage the City-County Council to support this plan as it will have a transformational impact on our city's urban core. Throughout the debate, the Indy Chamber has echoed the call for swift, yet thoughtful action to move forward and spur much needed investment in and redevelopment of the brownfield site of the former GM Stamping Plant as well as downtown's near east side. The proposed justice center does just that while focusing on the importance of increasing the quality of life for residents and consolidating critical public safety services."

Asked about Curry's comments, mayoral spokesperson Jen Pittman said, "It's another delay for the sake of delaying."

Pittman said plans for the justice center have been in the works for two years and that Curry has been part of the process. She said the longer the delay the more costly it becomes and the less likely it is to get done.

Faith leaders have spoken out against the new justice center, citing concerns that the plan focuses too much on incarceration and not enough on jobs, treatment and alternatives to jail.

"At 16, I was charged with a double homicide I didn't commit. Four months later, my mother lost her home fighting for my release," said Djuane Radford, IndyCAN Leader at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. "My life, my family, was destroyed just because I was a young black man labeled criminal and thrown in jail. We may need a new facility, but the community is united to slow it down and make sure it's done right."