Future of the new Allen County Jail on hold

Council postpones vote on proposed income tax and waiting on information from commissioners
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 6:32 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - The future of a new Allen County jail is at a standstill.

ALL RELATED REPORTS: New Allen County Jail Updates

A federal judge has ordered the county to address overcrowding, staffing, and other “unconstitutional” issues in the current jail. Allen County Commissioners want to build a new jail. In order to build the new jail, the county council will need to approve an increase in the county’s income tax to help pay for its construction.

In July, the county voted against the increase. Thursday, the council voted to postpone the vote so they would have more time to go over information. However, the council says they are still missing some of the information they requested.

“We’ve asked for numbers to see what the other alternatives are,” Councilman Kyle Kerley said. “We are still waiting to get a lot of that information from the commissioners,”

“I’d like to see the population report,” Councilman Bob Armstrong said. “And how many people do we have in our community that are not incarcerated but are on ankle bracelets.”

Wednesday night, the council held a public hearing to provide an opportunity for those against the jail to continue to voice their concerns, discuss different ways the county can pay for a new jail, an alternative plan to renovate and expand the existing jail, and talk about what comes next.

“For the first time, the room was excited,” Kerley said. “That’s a good way to put it. The community has just wanted someone to listen to their concerns and I think council has really stepped forward and become that.”

Commissioners were not in attendance during Wednesday night’s meeting.

21Alive has reached out to commissioners for a statement. Below is a list of questions we asked and Commissioners answered.

During the meeting, several council members said they asked commissioners for the numbers of inmates on house arrest, those on ankle bracelets, and the updated numbers for those within the Community Corrections System and building. Have commissioners received that request, and have they sent out those numbers to the council?

The commissioners have not received this request. But they would not have these statistics. The numbers could be accessed by contacting Allen County Community Corrections. I believe I recall hearing Councilmen Kerley respond at the meeting that he spoke to the Director of Allen County Community Corrections, Kim Churchward, and she provided some of those number to him.

Several council members also said they have reached out to the commissioners to get numbers on alternative funding to renovate the current Allen County Jail. I wanted to confirm that council members have asked for those numbers from commissioners and see if the commissioners are looking into other options besides building a new jail.

Council president Tom Harris provided the Board of Commissioners with a list of questions from members of County Council. Questions the commissioners have requested to receive for months now. Some of the questions did relate to alternative ideas proposed by members of council and what the costs might be for those ideas. The commissioners, per Indiana Code, must undertake an in-depth study of the options. That study was presented to the public on February 25, 2022, and has been available to the public, and County Council, on our website since then. Find it here: https://www.allencounty.us/1263 The Board of Commissioners filed its plan with federal court last May. The plan has not changed. The commissioners believed then, and still believe now, that there is no way to alleviate the unconstitutional conditions found to be present in the Allen County Jail without building a new jail facility.

Also, wanted to see if any of the commissioners attended last night’s public hearing at Citizen Square. Our reporters did not see any commissioners but we wanted to check. If they did not attend, we would like to know why and see if they were invited or if they simply didn’t know about the meeting.

The commissioners did know about the public hearing last night. The purpose of the public hearing was not for general public comment on the proposed jail, or even comment on the need for the proposed jail, it was to provide feedback to County Council, as required by Indiana Code, regarding the proposed tax increase for the new jail. The commissioners are not involved in that decision-making process for a tax increase and so their presence was not necessary. They have heard public feedback for 18 months on this topic.

Again, the council said that they are waiting for information from commissioners before they decide to vote on the increase in the income tax. Do the commissioners have a statement they would like to give?

The Board of Commissioners has attempted to work with its colleagues on County Council for the last 18 months to find a permanent solution to a habitually overcrowded Allen County Jail. It is a statutory requirement for the Board of Commissioners to provide and maintain a county jail for the Sheriff to operate. Working with the Allen County Sheriff and his team, the Board has developed a proposal for a new jail that alleviates the unconstitutional conditions found to be present in the Allen County Jail. County Council has had public presentations from a financial consultant on several occasions and has now held two public hearings to receive feedback from the public on the tax increase needed to fund the new jail. The hundreds of employees who work in the facility, the thousands of inmates who annually spend time in the facility, and the taxpayers of Allen County are waiting on County Council to decide how best to finance the new jail project.

A date has not been set on when the county council will vote on a new jail income tax. A representative for the county council will be in attendance at the federal jail hearing. That hearing was rescheduled and is now set for October 11.

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