September 19, 2002 Indianapolis Star editorial

Budget resolution is just a bandage

September 19, 2002
Our position is: The public must be involved in developing a solution to Marion County's public safety crisis.

The budget passed this week by the City-County Council offers a temporary fix to the county's jail overcrowding crisis. The key word here is temporary.

Unless all sectors of the criminal justice system develop a plan for meeting the city's long-term public safety needs, we'll be back where we started by the time the next budget cycle comes around -- with too many folks in jail and violent inmates let out on early release.

The two-year budget resolution approved Monday includes money for a new high-tech arrest processing center that will help reduce the bottleneck of prisoners on the system's front end. Mayor Bart Peterson will also get enough money to hire the final installment of the 200 police officers promised during his campaign.

On the one hand, the new processing center will help relieve lockup overcrowding, the subject of a long-running federal court case. On the other hand, additional police will mean more arrests and more people to process.

County judges have rightly complained of the need for solutions that will eliminate the inmate releases. The possibilities range from building a new jail to expanding community corrections programs so some inmates avoid jail altogether.

Other options on the table: a new judicial center or significant renovation of the 40-year-old City-County Building. Prisoners are escorted to the court in the same elevators and hallways used by judges, lawyers and witnesses. Some courts are set up in office space that was not designed to accommodate trial proceedings; others are backlogged with hundreds of cases that languish on the docket for months.

Presiding Judge Cynthia J. Ayers says Marion County needs a jail that will hold more than 2,500 prisoners; the present facility can handle only about 1,300. Others say the system could use more probation officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers and the capacity to expand home detention, drug treatment and work-release programs as well.

The Star's editorial page and WTHR Channel 13 will host a Public Safety Summit to consider these issues on Oct. 1 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Old Centrum, corner of 12th Street and Central Avenue.

Community leaders scheduled to be there are Public Safety Director Robert Turner, Sheriff Jack Cottey, Police Chief Jerry Barker, Prosecutor Scott Newman, Chief Public Defender David E. Cook, Chief Probation Officer Robert Bingham, Community Corrections Executive Director Brian Barton, along with Judges Ayers and William Young.

With so much expertise in one room, we're certain to get the idea process rolling. To reserve a seat, please call (317) 655-5619.