Indianapolis Star

Mayor: It's time to act on crime

December 12, 2004
By Tim Evans
Indianapolis Star

Ideas at summit aren't new but could cost $200 million

Five names and a strip of duct tape set the tone for a summit Saturday about problems facing the Marion County criminal justice system.

The names are those of Marion County Jail inmates charged with murder after being released because of overcrowding.

The duct tape represented past efforts to patch up the outdated jail and overloaded court system, neither of which has kept pace with the county's growing population.

"The criminal justice system has been suffering or flat-out broken for a long time," said Mayor Bart Peterson. "It would be easy to start pointing fingers, but the reality is we are all responsible for moving forward."

Peterson said city, county and state officials -- with residents' support -- must agree to go beyond talk to find and implement solutions.

"Words without action are meaningless," he told the 200 judges, attorneys, elected officials, police officers and residents who attended the daylong summit at University Place Conference Center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

"It is past time to face up to these issues as a community. This is a problem that simply must be solved."

Indianapolis resident Margaret Ream, 81, said community leaders face a monument task.

"I just hope they can do something about it without raising our taxes through the roof," said Ream, who attended the summit because of concerns about crime in her Eastside neighborhood.

The consensus solution is a combination of adding jail capacity, more alternative sentencing programs and up to 24 new courts to move people through the system quicker. No single component will solve the problem.

The problems and potential solutions are nothing new. Judge Mark Stoner said local officials have discussed and studied the jail and courts since the early 1990s. While the crisis is not the fault of current officeholders, Stoner said, "We must put pressure on these folks in office to act because they are there now."

Cale Bradford, presiding judge of Marion Superior Court, said the cost of improving the jail and expanding the court system could be $150 million to $200 million.

Raising both property taxes and the county income tax to the maximum allowable rates would not generate enough money to fund a project of that magnitude, said Dan Jones, of the Marion County auditor's office.

City-County Council President Rozelle Boyd said leaders must face up to the political and financial realities of a tax increase.

"We need to deal with those kind of issues and questions upfront so that we don't waste a lot of time posturing about reform without the commitment to get it done," he said.

Peterson closed the summit by saying he hopes the frank discussion would lead to action. The mayor added he expects the criminal justice system problems to be one of the main issues facing the City-County Council in 2005.

Prosecutor Carl Brizzi summed up the importance of addressing the problems.

"You can talk about economic development, keeping the Colts, building a new stadium and expanding the Convention Center -- all of which are important," he said, "but it doesn't mean anything if folks don't feel safe Downtown, if they don't feel safe in their homes at night."