FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Inside her eyeglass case, decorated with a floral design, was a pink rubber tie-off strap, often used to locate a vein to inject drugs. The street crimes officer also found two used syringes and a small plastic cylinder … and 0.5 grams of Fentanyl inside.
With that kind of evidence, the 42-year-old woman talked with the Fort Wayne Police officer as she was detained in his vehicle around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The woman was a passenger in a car that had been pulled over by the officer when he noticed there were no headlights or tail lights on. Because neither she nor the driver had a valid drivers license, it was decided the vehicle would be towed, court documents said.
The woman told the officer she was strung out on “Fetty,” the street name for Fentanyl, and “the cravings are much worse than Heroin ever was.” Typically, a dose of 0.2 grams is considered enough to kill a person.
The woman was charged with felony possession of a narcotic drug and felony unlawful possession of a syringe and spent a night in jail before she was released on her own recognizance with an order for monitored conditional release.
As the Allen County Sheriff, the Allen County Commissioners and County Council make preparations to reduce the inmate population inside the Allen County Jail after it was deemed inhumane, unsanitary and unsafe by a federal judge on March 31, cases such as the woman’s are under scrutiny. With the federal judge ordering the numbers at the jail to be reduced to at least 732 with the ideal number at 593, activist groups are asking to county officials, including the courts, to reconsider arrests and sentencing.
A group called Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group wants local officials to rethink jailing while Stacey Davis, an activist with Justice Accountability Victim Advocacy goes farther.
“They’re taking them all to jail and not giving them summons to appear in court, particularly drug possession charges,” Davis said. “The judges shouldn’t keep people in jail especially when they’re approved for alternative sentencing. The police department and judiciary practices have to change if they’re ever going to reduce the numbers in the jail.”
Davis believes the HART team, that includes two Fort Wayne detectives and two social workers, could be expanded.
“Why can’t the HART footprint get bigger by intervening in possession charges and not just overdoses? Why not save them before they overdose?” Davis asked.
Capt. Kevin Hunter, who oversees the HART program, says the officers work Monday through Friday, usually 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. following up on non-fatal overdoses within a 72-hour window. Hunter said that a recent study showed a 7% decline in overdose deaths with deflection programs like HART.
Hunter said another option cities are using is LEAD, short for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. The program gives people “the option of jail or treatment when facing an immediate arrest situation,” Hunter said.
Programs usually require federal or state grants that allow jurisdictions to expand services. But while the county faces a possible shift in policing and sentencing, a paragraph from the Allen County Commissioners Jail Feasibiity Study published this year sums it up in an almost poetic way:
“Policies change, new laws are passed, new judges arrive, financial resources wax and wane,” the paragraph reads on projecting needed bed counts. “Jails tend to have a full house.”
But there are drawbacks.
“One reason we are not doing a LEAD programs is forcing people into treatment typically does not work,” Hunter said. “We know that the average person with Substance Use Disorder will relapse at least five times before become substance free.”