Letter to the Editor, Indianapolis Star

November 28, 2005
My View: John Kautzman & John Maley

New Courts Center Can Ease Public Safety Crisis

On behalf of the 5,000 members of the Indianapolis Bar Association and its IBA/Marion County Bar Association Justice Center Task Force, we commend The Star for its continued coverage of our city's public safety crisis. Our nearly 50-year-old court facilities simply are not adequate to house the necessary number of judges, prosecutors, defenders and court staff to efficiently process the high volume of criminal cases.

As The Star has consistently noted, a systemically underfunded criminal justice system has resulted in early release of dangerous criminals and increased crime.

A central part of the criminal justice crisis is the unsafe and inadequate court facilities in which the public's judicial business is conducted. The City-County Building -- though functional as a government building for marriage licenses, tax payments, voter registration and other routine government services -- was not designed for the criminal justice demands of the 21st century. The public is at great risk every day in this antiquated and unsafe courts facility, walking the same halls with more than 70,000 chain-gang prisoners annually.

Indeed, several separate taxpayer-funded studies over the past 15 years have repeatedly documented the danger and inadequacies in the current court space and called for a new criminal justice facility.

The Indianapolis and Marion County bar associations have been working hard through the Justice Center Task Force to bring about the economical construction of a safe, adequate, and efficient criminal justice center. At the Criminal Justice Planning Council meeting today [November 28, 2005], the task force will ask the Planning Council to endorse a forward-looking, cost-effective plan calling for the design and financing of an appropriate facility.

It is long past time for the nation's 12th-largest city to remedy its criminal justice crisis. Many positive steps to address these issues have been taken by the Criminal Justice Planning Council in the last year, but the core infrastructure problem of unsafe, inefficient, inadequate criminal court and processing space remains.

Financing for a criminal justice center can be reasonably done through various means. Possible sources are enhanced filing and user fees, efficiencies in processing, rental savings by relocating agencies paying private market rents back to the City-County Building where they belong, and utilization of a portion of the county option income tax revenues already earmarked for public safety.

Indianapolis has a bright future, but that future will be bleak if crime is not controlled and cases and prisoners are not processed effectively. Elected officials need the support of the community in attacking this public safety crisis. A safe, efficient, adequate criminal justice center must be part of the criminal justice solution, or else the crisis will continue to worsen.

The Criminal Justice Planning Council meeting will take place at 4 p.m. today [November 28, 2005] at the City-County Building, 200 E. Washington St. It is open to the public and does not require a reservation.