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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "My view: Rethink plan for justice center" in Marion County

This letter from Les Zwirn is a retired Methodist Hospital executive, IndyCAN volunteer and executive director of Better Health for Indiana is in today's Indianapolis Star:

According to Mayor Greg Ballard, one of his major accomplishments is the financing and construction of the new $750 million Eskenazi Hospital. This project won overwhelming bipartisan community approval as a ballot referendum, was completed on time and within budget, was financed through low-cost municipal bonds and philanthropic contributions, and is poised to play a key role in reforming the local health system.

Yet, for reasons hard to understand, Ballard seems to think our community lacks the vision, know-how and collaborative spirit to plan, finance and build the proposed $500 million Criminal Justice Center complex. The mayor’s planning process has been so secretive that mistrust and finger-pointing among City-Council Council members and the media have become routine. The proposal pays minimal attention to basic urban design principles or operational efficiency issues, and has largely ignored the potential for the center to be a catalyst for reforming our broken criminal justice system.

The mayor’s proposal is based on a risky, unproven financing and construction approach called P3 (Public-Private Partnership). This approach avoids public participation through a referendum or transparent citizen participation, creates counter-productive financial incentives to fill 1,000 unneeded jail beds, and ensures that guaranteed out-of-state corporate profits take precedence over local investments in violence prevention.

The mayor’s proposal has other serious flaws:

First, the proposal endorses bad public policy in that it creates financial incentives to increase mass incarceration and makes no provision for establishing a “community benefit” fund to shift resources from jails to community-based programs that address the root causes of violence and recidivism. IndyCAN, a coalition of over 20 faith congregations, is strongly advocating for the creation of such a fund, even if the risky P3 financing approach is eventually approved.

Second, the proposal is based on bad urban design principles and fosters too much inefficiency in the way our local and state criminal justice will operate. The proposal departs from a nearly half-century of bipartisan urban design progress. As urban planner/architect Bruce Race observes in a Jan. 3 Indianapolis Business Journal article, “Missing are five of the most basic urban design elements: a long-term street and open-space framework that the justice facility fits into, a land-use plan, a transportation plan, an infrastructure plan and related financing action plan, and community participation in creating the plan.”

The proposal leaves us with an outdated and inadequate City-County Building. It splits the civil courts off from the criminal courts, thereby impeding the ability of our local courts to work together. And, by not including the state appellate courts in the planning process, the opportunity to free up room in the Statehouse is lost.

Third, the proposal has lacked citizen participation and oversight. Consequently, IndyCAN is recommending “the assignment of a Criminal Justice Center Oversight Committee. ... Such an oversight process has been proven to identify problems before they become costly crises.”

Fourth, the proposed decision timeline calling for the City-County Council to approve the project in March is premature and ill-advised. The council would be both wise and courageous to delay any decision on the project until two things happen: the state legislature approves the budget for funding local corrections programs in April; and a Citizen Oversight Committee is appointed and used to come up with a Plan B that reworks the deal so that it is holistic and balanced.

Our best hope as citizens who care about the epidemic of violence and mass incarceration in our city is that the council steps up to its responsibility and acts in a bipartisan way to come up with Plan B, even if this means that construction of the center is delayed until after Ballard leaves office.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 15, 2015 09:27 AM
Posted to Indiana Government