Six years ago, a diverse group of elected officials, government experts, and community stakeholders convened with the goal of reforming the Marion County criminal justice system. That innovative team sought to address underlying challenges generations in the making, which had resulted in an overburdened, antiquated, and unequal system of justice for residents.
After months of listening and learning, the Criminal Justice Reform Task Force released a series of recommendations to fundamentally change the existing system. They included a shift to prioritize assessment and treatment over incarceration, especially for those who struggle with mental health or substance abuse disorders. There was also a clear need to address aging, inefficient facilities that served as barriers to collaboration and successful re-entry — specifically our county jail system.
Soon after, we found partners in the Twin Aire neighborhood and the surrounding communities, who jumped at the chance to replace a 15-year-old brownfield resting on $24 million of environmental remediation efforts. And as we broke ground on the site, we combined our reform-minded approach with an intention to uplift one of our city’s most historic areas.
On May 16, after two years of a pandemic and a national reckoning on race that only further exposed the inequities of a broken system of criminal justice, we cut the ribbon on the Community Justice Campus.
The event represented a significant step forward in implementing the original recommendations for reform. The campus brings a modern, holistic, and data-driven approach to criminal justice in our city. Critically, it unites partners on a single site, making it easier for those who interact with the justice system to navigate it.
The campus houses the Marion County courts, sheriff’s office, Adult Detention Center and our flagship Assessment and Intervention Center, or AIC. The AIC, which was the first facility to open on the campus in December 2020, provides mental health and addiction assessments as an intervention point before someone is arrested. The goal is to help keep non-violent, low-level offenders out of jail by providing them with the resources and support they need to address underlying mental health or substance use issues.
In its first year of operation, the AIC received 2,419 referrals and conducted 1,707 assessments of individuals for mental and behavioral health and substance abuse issues. Instead of being thrown in jail, these individuals are now getting access to resources and services, including short-term stays at the AIC to address withdrawal management and connection to direct service providers such as recovery housing and community mental health treatment.
Not only is the AIC making a significant difference, but the Adult Detention Center itself is restructured with a focus on improved physical and mental health services for inmates. The facility features Medication Assisted Treatment capabilities, Narcan vending machines, and suicide prevention advocates. It also includes enhanced space for inmates to take part in education, job training, counseling, and other programs to assist with re-entry.
More facilities are on the way: a modern Youth and Family Services Center, to replace our aging Juvenile Detention Facility and guide young people toward positive paths; a professional building to house the Public Defender and Probation Department in close proximity to the new courthouse; and coroner and forensics facilities to more quickly find justice for families who have had loved ones taken from them too soon. And as the Community Justice Campus continues to grow, we will work with neighbors to bring responsible local development along with it.
At the outset, we knew the work of criminal justice reform would not be finished in one year, or four years, or even in the life of my administration. And our work is not yet finished. But with the opening of the Community Justice Campus, we have made a vital step toward improving outcomes for generations of Indianapolis residents to come.