Federal judge pleased with county commissioners’ progress on plan to build new jail

We’ve been Digging Deeper into the overcrowding problems at the Allen County Jail for months.
We’ve been Digging Deeper into the overcrowding problems at the Allen County Jail for months.(WPTA)
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 12:39 PM EST
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ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA) - Allen County Commissioners met with a U.S. District Court judge on Friday to present their latest plan to build a new jail near the Fort Wayne-New Haven border.

Judge Damon Leichty, of the Northern District, told the commissioners on Friday that he is pleased with the progress they have made so far with the proposal to build a new jail on a parcel of land at 2911 Meyer Road.

The judge also said on Friday that he would like to see more jail staff hired. Commissioners noted that the current population at the downtown jail has decreased to 646. At the end of 2019, the jail had 863 inmates at the facility.

The next progress report regarding the new jail is due on May 19, with a hearing set for June 2.

On Nov. 23, Allen County Commissioners voted to move forward with negotiations for the purchase Meyer Road site, on the city’s east side. They say the property received the number one ranking on the Elevatus Scoring Chart, which scores how suitable the land would be for the new jail.

Commissioners said the developed land around the site, which is near the International Harvester plant, attracted them to the location, as they could use the land to consolidate other county offices. They also say the location is central to Allen County, making it more accessible.

The Meyer Road site received the number one ranking on the Elevatus Scoring Chart.
The Meyer Road site received the number one ranking on the Elevatus Scoring Chart.(Elevatus)

Originally, commissioners proposed that a new jail be built on the southeast side, on county-owned land at Paulding and Adams Center roads, but were met with backlash from constituents.

RELATED: New location, same problem: Neighbors upset about potential new Allen County Jail location

Federal judge rules inmates suffering ‘irreparable harm’ at Allen Co. Jail

Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge found in favor of the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit addressing myriad deficiencies at the Allen County Jail. His order demanded swift action by the sheriff and the county commissioners to address concerns that include overcrowding, staffing, and the treatment of inmates.

The case was filed in January 2020 by Vincent Morris, an inmate at the jail, and was granted class-action status, meaning the matter would be heard on behalf of others presently held at the jail or to be incarcerated in the future. The ACLU of Indiana provided legal counsel for the plaintiff.

As noted in the lawsuit, the Allen County Jail was built in 1981 and has undergone several revisions since opening. It was operating with 741 beds at the end of 2019, with 863 inmates at the facility, according to the Indiana Department of Corrections.

“As a result of the overcrowding, some blocks have prisoners who are sleeping on mattresses on plastic platforms, called ‘boats,’ on the floors of cells because the permanent beds are occupied,” the lawsuit claimed. “This causes an enormous amount of tension as space is extremely tight. Toilets are in each cell and when prisoners are on the floor they have to be stepped over for the prisoners in the permanent beds to use the toilets. The ‘extra’ prisoners in each cell are forced to sleep near toilets.”

In December, 21Alive’s Linda Jackson took a tour of the current downtown jail with the jail commander for a look at the conditions that are at the heart of the controversy. You can watch her full report below.

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