Indianapolis Star Editorial

Outdated Courtroom Space Poses Danger

April 11, 2005

April 11, 2005

Our position is: New judicial facility is an important long-term goal for improving public safety in Marion County.

Concerns about safety in the Marion County courts long predate last month's shooting of a judge and court personnel in Atlanta. Task force after task force has concluded that the City-County Building was never intended for the caseloads that courts are handling.

According to the Justice Center Task Force, about 300 prisoners a day are transported to courts within the building. They walk amid 2,500 employees and more than 500,000 annual visitors to the building. The judicial system has expanded into areas never designed to house courtrooms, including criminal courts that don't have adjacent holding cells or separation between staff, prisoners and the public.

Nearly 700 alarms or emergencies are reported each year in the building, with more than 500 arrests. The Justice Center Task Force termed the building "one of the most dangerous places in our otherwise proud city."

The lack of courtroom space is but one facet of a public safety system that is coming apart at the seams. Jail overcrowding results in the early release of criminals who commit more crimes. Shortages of judicial personnel create backlogs that exacerbate jail overcrowding.

A new judicial complex could cost from $95 million to $195 million. As Mayor Bart Peterson recently told the Criminal Justice Planning Council, such a bricks-and-mortar effort could easily consume all new money being generated to improve the judicial system.

Such a new complex may not be, as the mayor puts it, the "low-hanging fruit that you can pick from the tree." But it is integral to providing more space for the 30 additional judges and judicial officers who are needed. More holding cells and greater separation of prisoners and the public also are necessary.

No study is required to determine the necessity of a new judicial facility. But given the lead time to design and construct a new building, what is needed is a mechanism to pay for it.