Allen County Commissioners, Sheriff get more time to address jail solutions

Allen County Indiana Jail
Allen County Indiana Jail(wpta)
Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 5:49 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - Both Allen County Commissioners and the Sheriff reported their progress on trying to fix the current jail situation to a federal judge on Thursday.

Problems have included overcrowding and what the judge deemed as “Inhumane conditions.”

That judge gave the County and the Sheriff’s department until November 30th to file reports that he says should clearly and plainly lay out solutions, including where a new jail would be built, how many beds it would hold, and how the current issues of overcrowding and under staffing at the Allen County jail are being handled.

The County is considering at least 4 possible locations for a new, 1,100 bed jail.

3 new, privately owned locations were only described as east, west, and south of Fort Wayne by the County in Thursday’s hearing.

The other location still on the table after today’s hearing? The site at Adams Center and Paulding roads.

Representatives from Changemakers, along with other community groups have been working to steer the County clear of a proposed southeast site.

Daylana Saunders from the group called the judge’s ruling bittersweet, saying “I do feel like the process was fair, but in regards to the end result, I feel like the lack of addressing the southeast proposal was disappointing.”

Fort Wayne City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, (D) 6th District, was at the hearing today. She says while the judge couldn’t make an ruling on where a jail should go, she believes his ruling has helped make the proposed site on the southeast side of Fort Wayne less desirable.

“They are looking for more alternatives. I’d love to tell you that southeast is completely off the table. With all the factors that were presented today, the reality of all of the barriers that would need to be climbed in order to move forward whether it’ getting approval from the BZA, the community that is completely against the location that they have chosen,” Tucker said. “The judge has given more time. He didn’t specifically say for those reasons, but the reality is there is a lot of unknown variables that could prevent that location from being a successful one. So, while it’s not completely off the table, it is definitely not the most palatable one.”

Members of Help not Handcuffs, a non-partisan group which includes Changemakers, as well as social workers, faith leaders, and community leaders say they have been working for months to be included in conversations about a new jail or current jail reform, and from today on, the judge says they will be.

Diana Bauer who is legal council for the group, says they don’t want a new jail at all. Instead, she says developing new diversion programs to keep people out of jail is a better idea.

She also believes County Commissioners have heard citizens loud and clear that there should not be a new jail on the southeast side, saying “We don’t need a new jail. Maybe there’s a way to use the existing facilities or use some of the other existing court facilities around the county.”

Addressing current problems at the jail, the judge ordered the Sheriff’s department to keep working towards resolving constitutional violations that continue to take place, including overcrowding, under staffing, and reduced recreation time for inmates.

Lawyers for the Sheriff’s department says they’ve increased staffing to 134, but recognize the inmate population has been going up since their last report in mid August, to 693 as of today.

Ken Falk with the ACLU of Indiana, who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit originally filed, says he’s satisfied with where things are going right now.

Falk says. “We anticipate fully that in 90 days, whenever we get back in December, there will be a site selected, there will be a purchase agreement and we’ll have a definite schedule.”

The next hearing in federal court to discuss the jail problems and a possible future location is scheduled for December 16th.