Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett delivers his first State of the City address at the Christamore House on the near westside of Indianapolis on Wednesday. Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar
By Brian Eason, firstname.lastname@example.org
During his first State of the City address Wednesday evening, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett pushed for a broad overhaul of Marion County's criminal justice system — including, but not limited to, the new jail that has long eluded city-county leaders.
Speaking at the Christamore House community center in Haughville, Hogsett claimed success on a number of fronts in his first 100 days, even as he acknowledged a number of pressing crises: recent spikes in crime, a city budget that has spent more than it takes in ever since the recession and a decades-long rise in poverty that is among the root causes of the city's safety and fiscal woes.
On criminal justice, Hogsett sought to reframe the discussion around a broader package of reforms, saying that mental health issues, substance abuse and sentencing reforms must be dealt with in conjunction with the county's facility needs.
"We need a new jail — our current facilities are out-of-date, inefficient and unsafe," Hogsett said. "But while a new jail may be necessary, it is certainly not sufficient."
Among his suggestions were relying on community corrections to monitor nonviolent offenders at home, and sending those with mental health and drug abuse problems to treatment facilities instead of jail.
Hogsett's remarks came just days after the Marion County Sheriff's Office declared an overcrowding "crisis" at the Marion County Jail, and one year after the City-County Council scrapped the prior administration's plan to consolidate the county's far-flung network of courts, legal offices and jails into one facility.
Hours before the speech, Hogsett signed an executive order creating a task force to study the county's criminal justice system and make recommendations to the Criminal Justice Planning Council for adoption by the end of the year.
He also tied the county's criminal justice crisis directly to the city's financial woes. The unified Indianapolis-Marion County government faces a $50 million structural deficit, according to administration budget officials, and the county's 50-year-old jail has long been the elephant in the room. Mayor Greg Ballard's administration believed the county wasted millions annually on maintenance, inefficient staffing and inmate health care that often has been outsourced to costly hospitals rather than treated in-house.
As a candidate, Hogsett, a Democrat, opposed Ballard's proposed solution, citing a study commissioned by the council that projected budget shortfalls in the early years of the $1.75 billion, 35-year deal. The Republican Ballard administration dismissed the study as politically motivated by the Democrat-controlled council and said the proposed facility would pay for itself over the life of the contract thanks to projected savings.
Hogsett is expected to push for a smaller facility, rather than the full-fledged criminal justice center that Ballard and many community leaders called for previously.
Council members in attendance Wednesday night praised the focus on criminal justice.
"That is huge," said Councilman William Oliver, a Democrat.
Councilman Jeff Miller, a Republican, said he agreed with many of Hogsett's comments — chiefly that a new facility alone wouldn't solve Marion County's problems.
Though he supported Ballard's proposal for an all-in-one facility, Miller said that, politically, there might be too many hurdles to overcome.
"I think what it came down to was all these players in the same room couldn't agree," Miller said. "And if that makes it an impossible dream, it's an impossible dream."
Also in his remarks, Hogsett gave an overview of his first 131 days, emphasizing the ongoing overhaul of public safety under new Police Chief Troy Riggs that has included a limited return to community-based beat policing.
He said the bipartisan passage of public safety restructuring and ethics reform ordinances showed that Indianapolis was now a "government driven by leaders that care as much, if not more, about the community they serve than the political party they belong to."
He also looked ahead to initiatives to come, including Great Places 2020, a major urban redevelopment plan of which the city is a partner. Unveiled earlier this week, the Great Places project will target six urban neighborhoods for redevelopment over the next four years. About $84 million in private money has already been committed to the effort by the initiative's 50 partner groups.
While many left the speech energized, others reserved comment until they see results.
"I'll judge it when I see some action," said Councilman Jared Evans, a Democrat. "Especially the neighborhood stuff."
Call IndyStar reporter Brian Eason at (317) 444-6129. Follow him on Twitter: @brianeason.