Neighbors worry "super justice center" not so super for them

Residents presented a signed petition to keep the justice center out of their neighborhood.
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West Indianapolis neighbors are concerned about a plan to build a new jail just steps from their front yards.

The Marion County Justice Center could go in at the old GM stamping plant location, across the railroad tracks from the Indianapolis Zoo. Despite pleas from homeowners, the city wants to move ahead with construction.

"These are 150 signatures from people in our neighborhood," said a couple as they gave City-County counselors their petitions against the new super-sized Criminal Justice Center to house all the jails, prosecutors and the criminal courts - a $440 million project.

Another possible site is near the old airport, but many judges and lawyers oppose that idea, due partly to the drive from downtown. So the preferred site is on the near west side.

But why build new at all?

"We will save money," said Marion County Sheriff John Layton, who took part in the forum at the City-County Building Monday night.

Right now, most prisoners go first to the processing center at Central and East streets downtown. They could be shuttled to the jail blocks away, then the City-County Building for court appearances, then back to the jail.

It is a costly process, both in transportation and security, Layton and other City-County officials say.

But some neighbors around the old GM site aren't convinced it will be good for them. One told the City-County councilors, "I don't want a criminal justice center to be the centerpiece of my community."

"I don't want these inmates being released into the neighborhood where my children are," said another resident.

But Layton said he would shuttle released prisoners downtown to the IndyGo bus hub, not into the neighborhood.

He reassured residents, saying, "You won't be able to look out your kitchen window without seeing a sheriff's car going by."

But the resident and mother answered, "Do you think I want cops all the time, constantly? You want my children to see police all the time, too?"

Ben Fuson, a law student and downtown resident, said, "It would make more sense to locate the facility near existing correctional facilities and leave one of the most desired development sites in the city open to proposals that would have a significantly more positive influence on our surrounding neighborhood."

But planners said there would be benefits with businesses possibly popping up around a new justice center and it will "not raise income taxes or any type of taxes on the residents."

Residents still worry about the kind of business likely to follow, including bail bonds offices. Bondsmen were at the forum, too, and defended the work they do.