In an ambitious leap, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett is unveiling plans for sweeping reform that would weave through every aspect of Marion County’s massive criminal justice system and include the construction of a new jail, reports the Indianapolis Star. Mental health professionals and law enforcement would assess suspects for mental illness and substance abuse, and in some cases, divert them from the jail into treatment. Social workers and paramedics would team with police officers to help the most troubled and vulnerable. The county’s outdated and overtaxed jails system would find relief in the form of two new facilities built across about 50 acres in a to-be-determined location.
Many aspects of reform have been incubating for months, if not years. Now, with an increasing reliance on law enforcement officials to battle issues of mental illness, addiction and poverty as much as they battle crime and violence, Hogsett is making the kind of long-term bet that could impact city residents for generations, and stand as a major legacy for the first-term mayor who heavily campaigned on a message of public safety. “It will profoundly change the way justice is dispensed,” said Hogsett, a former attorney general and federal prosecutor. As former Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration knows, the path from dream to implementation can be filled with setbacks and failures, institutional roadblocks, and financing problems. Ballard’s plan for a criminal justice center fell apart amid concerns over the public/private financing model and the $1.75 billion price tag. Hogsett vows that he would not raise taxes to pay for the project. His administration, instead, would make payments with an estimated $35 million saved from expected inefficiencies each year.