INDIANAPOLIS — If all goes as planned, a major migration from downtown Indianapolis to the southeast side will be underway by this time next year.
Marion County courts, which have been housed at the City-County Building (CCB) since it opened in 1962, will move about three miles to the new Community Justice Campus (CJC). Sitting next door will be a new Marion County Jail and sheriff's office.
From the outside, the 12 story courthouse at Southeastern Avenue and East Pleasant Run Parkway North Drive, looks finished. It's not. Throughout 2021, inside work will continue. Every court currently in the CCB will move to the CJC, along with the juvenile courts, which are currently in a separate building.
At around the same time, the two downtown Marion County jails and the sheriff's office will transfer operations to a building connected to the courthouse.
The courthouse and jail, along with the already-opened Assessment and Intervention Center, and two professional buildings that could open as early as late 2022, make up the Criminal Justice Campus — a $571 million project, financed by bonds, that's been in the planning stages for some time and sits on land that was once a Citizens Energy coke manufacturing plant.
It's a project that will add new life to a somewhat depressed area of the city, while at the same time changing the way Indianapolis residents interact with the courts and jails. No longer will prospective jurors report to the CCB. The big criminal court trials that make the news and the more routine ones that don't will take place in modern courtrooms on the southeast side.
The city's point man for all of this is Matt Giffin, Interim Director and Legal Counsel, City of Indianapolis, Office of Public Health and Safety. He calls the project "transformative." "The CCB, I work in it. Some people have some affection for it, it has some charm, I suppose, but it is an older building and everybody in the system will be better served by the new facility."
Here are the key components of the Criminal Justice Campus:
- Assessment and Intervention Center (AIC): This facility has been up and operating since December.
"This is something that kind of makes us stand out from cities of our size in the country," said Giffin. "And we really think it is the leading edge of criminal justice reform and diversion efforts, to try to get people who are experiencing substance abuse issues, addictions, mental health issues, an alternative place to go that isn't a hospital, isn't the jail system, so that their needs can be addressed and so that the jail system can be relieved of potential sources of overcrowding."
“The opening of the AIC represents several years of work reflecting a transformation in thinking about our criminal justice system," said Mayor Joe Hogsett, at the opening ceremony. "Our goal is to address rising mental health and addiction needs, and break the cycle of low-level, non-violent offenders trapped in the system largely due to complex social, economic, and health challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated mental illness and substance abuse within our community, and I’m grateful that the AIC will be part of the solution.”
The AIC is operated by Eskenazi Health and provides 24/7 referrals and intakes, withdrawal management, skills training, engagement in daily goal development, and referral to long-term mental health and treatment services.
As many as 40% of Marion County jail inmates have been diagnosed with mental illness, and up to 85% of inmates suffer from some form of addiction. Mental health challenges and addiction issues are on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The criminal justice system and the jail were never meant to be a mental health or substance abuse service provider, but it's called on to do that here and around the country because there are no other options," said Giffin.
The new Marion County Courthouse: The impressive building across from the Twin Aire Shopping Center will have many advantages over the CCB, according to Giffin. "Once the growing pains are out of the way, it will be a more accessible facility for everybody who interacts with it, whether it's lawyers, members of the public, jurors, and the various employees at the site itself.
All courts in the CCB will move to the new building, along with the juvenile courts, which are in their own facility on the east side. "The interior of it, the way it is able to provide for security for inmates who are going in and out, is able to provide for security and adequate, airy roomy office space for the judges and the people who work for the judges and the court staff," said Giffin. "There's going to be great improvements in office space and improvements in overhead costs per-inmate, per-trial."
The new courthouse will also lead to changes in the way jury trials are conducted. "It will realize a lot of efficiencies from having the detention center (jail) more or less next to the courthouse facility," said Giffin. "Transit costs, security costs, savings will be realized there because of the co-location.
Other changes will be less dramatic. "A court will continue to look like a courtroom, some things don't change that dramatically," said Giffin.
Sheriff's Office and Adult Detention Center: Better known as the new jail. Offenders from the two downtown jails will be housed in the new building which will have about 3,000 beds. That should be large enough to eliminate overcrowding problems that have plagued the downtown facilities in the past.
Having the new jail connected to the courthouse will also have advantages. "There is quite a bit of cost, both personnel and transport when you need to move people in and out for appearances, initial hearings, trials or other appearances before a judge," said Giffin.
Professional Buildings: "The prosecutor's office, as well as probation and public defender's offices, the plan is that they will be moving to a new set of professional buildings that will be constructed at the Criminal Justice Campus site," said Giffin. These buildings could be ready as early as late 2022 and would have space available for law firms and other non-government functions.
Parking and transportation: IndyGo hasn't worked out the specifics yet, but says there will be bus service the the CJC.
There are plans for a parking garage on campus, but initially, parking will be on a large surface lot with over 2,000 spaces for employees and visitors. There will be a fee for parking near the buildings, but free parking is also expected in the outer reaches of the lot.
What about the City-County Building? It's not going anywhere. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department will remain there along with city and county offices. But when the courts move out, a significant chunk of the building will be vacant. New uses for the CCB space and the jails must be found.
"The city hopes to realize some gains and some economic development grains for the downtown area by converting those sites into facilities — whether in private or public hands — that are more conducive to neighborhood development and commercial development," said Giffin. "There has not been a final call yet, but leasing it to non-government uses is a possibility."
The move to the southeast side will take getting used to. An entire community of legal offices and bail bondsmen has grown up around the CCB.
Then there's the move itself. "I don't think there's going to be any significant lack of service associated with this," said Giffin. "COVID-19, of course, could throw a wrench into all of that. Everybody's fingers are crossed that by the time we get to late 2021 and early 2022, that will no longer be an overriding factor for us."