Indianapolis International Airport may be officials’ preferred location for a proposed Criminal Justice Complex, but attorneys who work in the system are critical of the idea.
“It cannot work,” said James Edgar, Criminal Justice Section chair for the Indianapolis Bar Association. He noted the logistical challenges of a roughly 40-minute commute from downtown and the difficulty of transporting defendants and court users to a site almost in Hendricks County.
“You’re going to take those 2,500 jobs and plop them on the doorstep of Plainfield,” Edgar said of attorneys, court and jail staff and the supporting workforce that he estimated would be displaced from downtown by the move. That equates to about $5 million a year just from those workers buying lunch, he said.
Edgar said the Criminal Justice Section’s membership of about 260 was largely unaware of the proposal and the favored airport site when he emailed them about it recently, but their responses were uniform. “None of them like the idea of going out to the airport. … The concept of moving it that far from downtown is just alarming to many people who make their living in and around the City-County Building.”
Marc Lotter, spokesman for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, said the airport site hasn’t officially been selected for the complex, though it did score highest among sites the city evaluated.
Lotter said what’s clear, though, is that the complex won’t be downtown.
“It’s too costly to build a new facility downtown and also wouldn’t be the best use of real estate downtown,” he said . . .
While the IBJ story focuses on the reaction of the legal community to the planned relocation of the criminal justice center to the airport, a remote location is equally as problematic for offenders, the family members of offenders, jurors, witnesses and others who are impacted by the location of the courts and jails. Those actors benefit as well from having a centrally-located criminal justice system. Again, we are seeing plans undertaken by the powers that be regarding downtown Indianapolis that benefit only an elite handful of political insiders who profiteer from governmental decisions. The principal reason for moving the criminal justice center to the airport site is so a private operator of the jail, such as Corrections Corporation of America, which is expected to bid on the development of a new criminal justice center, can benefit from close access to the airport for its con air prison bedding business.
Fellow blogger and urban development guru Aaron Renn pens this thoughtful comment at the IBJ's website on the proposed airport site:
I applaud the idea of a justice center located away from downtown, but the airport idea is fatally flawed. Being on the fringe of the county, it would be burdensome for families or witnesses to travel there. That alone should make it a non-starter. But it would also put hundreds of deputies and other employees right on the doorstep of Hendricks County. A Marion County sheriff's deputy is the perfect profile of person to move to Plainfield or Avon. Why in the world would you want to basically lay out an open invitation for so many people to relocate out of the county? The same is true of law offices, lunch places, etc. that could be around the new justice center. These could easily be located across the border. Spending north of $300 million on what would be a de facto economic development project for Hendricks County makes no sense. I think the sheriff spilled the beans in a previous IBJ article. The airport site was tapped from the beginning because they want to use it as a profit center to house federal inmates in transport and such. Not a bad concept and one I think warranted exploration, but in the broader context not the best move. By the way, I don't hate Hendricks County and want to see it thrive. I just don't think Marion County government facilities should be the engine of that growth. As locals complain about a lack of love from the state house on transit and such, keep in mind this is an entirely locally controlled project. Putting the justice center to the airport would be an unforced error by local government. If Marion County wants to staunch the bleeding of people, businesses, income, spending, and tax revenue to the collar counties, the first step is not to shoot yourself in the foot. The first step in getting out of a hole? Stop digging.UPDATE: The IBJ has a follow-up story reporting that the Ballard administration has received proposals from five groups of developers but tells the public it's none of your damn business who is in the bidding to seize total control of Marion County's criminal justice system as a gift made possible by a single law firm that has already seized complete control of city-county government under this mayor.
The groups, whom city officials would not identify, have national and international experience and have worked on similar facilities, Mayor Greg Ballard's spokesman Marc Lotter said. The deadline for responding to the city's request for qualifications was Tuesday.
A review team of city and county officials, plus private-sector advisers, will narrow the field by sometime this spring, Lotter said . . .
The complex would require as much as 35 acres of land and add 1,000 jail beds and 30 new courtrooms. Lotter said the location will be chosen in time to present it to the finalist bidders, who will then be asked to draw up specific plans.
Ballard's office is meeting with lawyers, judges and other stakeholders to discuss their concerns and potential sites for the complex.
City-County Council President Maggie Lewis said she has been inundated with calls from people concerned about not having a centralized, downtown location for courts and related services, as well as from west-side residents who don't want jails in their area. She's trying to organize town hall meetings on the topic for March.Note from blog reader: Why isn't the Indiana Law Blog covering this issue?
Answer: Good question. It's only the biggest topic on the mind of attorneys in Indianapolis right now.