FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) The Allen County Commissioners are due to name an architect responsible for building a new jail, renovating the old one or some combination of the two.

That was the message at the commissioners’ weekly legislative meeting Friday after a blistering reprimand Thursday from a federal judge who ordered them on March 31 to make changes that would remove inhumane conditions at the Allen County Jail.

The commissioners are tasked with finding a 60-70 acre parcel of land where a new jail complex could be built, but Friday they ruled out the county-owned 200 acres at Adams and Paulding roads where the Allen County Sheriff’s Department operates a shooting range because of unsuitable soil tests.

Environmental testing and the proper soil that would be able to support a jail complex have held the commissioners back in finding a site, but two unnamed sites are now undergoing testing, commissioners said.

At the meeting, Peters led a jail update listing departmental accomplishments so far, even if federal judge Damon R. Leichty found them lacking to the point where he nearly threatened contempt of court.

“The judge was very clear that he was unhappy with what he had heard from the county,” Peters said. “The problem is in an arena like that you don’t have the opportunity to tell the whole story. You answer the judge’s questions specifically and they move on to the next thing and the plaintiff presents their side.”

Peters said they canceled a contract with the U.S. Marshals that has helped drain the jail of inmates. Normally, the jail holds between 30 and 50 federal inmates. Thursday, the number was zero.

The commissioners have taken steps, Peters said, including commissioning a jail study executed by Elevatus Architecture, a local firm that has 80 jails nationwide under its belt and held a public hearing outlining financing options.

They also crafted an agreement with Lagrange County to take extra inmates to ease overcrowding and it’s likely another agreement will come with Adams County, an adjacent county. So far no inmates have been transported to other jails.

However, most of the reduction in jail numbers has come from the sheriff’s office where Deputy Chief David Butler, the jail commander and his staff have developed a strong relationship with the Indiana Department of Corrections which is accepting more inmates than before. The weekly number transported to the diagnostics center to be placed in Hoosier prisons has sometimes doubled from 14 to 28, jail staff said.

Peters said he has been working with the governor’s office and state offices to access Medicaid health insurance for inmates who lose their coverage once they are incarcerated.

“Now we’re working with people like Park Center (Behavioral Health) to get a better sense of who those people are so we can serve those people in the way they deserved to be served,” Peters said.

The commissioners, two years ago, opened the Residential Services Center off Cook Road for Allen County Community Corrections that currently houses around 170 offenders.

That facility, however, was initially planned to house Level 6 felony offenders, currently mandated to be kept in county jails instead of state prisons. Because the state legislature’s move was so unpopular, that mandate will be reversed and newly sentenced Level 6 felons will be eligible for state prison on July 1.

Sheriff David Gladieux has said he was forced to close down his county-funded work release program with up to 103 offenders after the courts denied every application from late 2019 through May 2020.

With all the moving parts of building a jail, commissioners had hoped to move out a compliance date with the judge, so that they wouldn’t be “forced to slap up a jail regardless,” commissioner Richard Beck said.

Calling it “the largest, single public works project in the history of Allen County,” it’s likely to cost upwards of $350 million. With a growing population and needs of a modern jail that will be the defacto mental health hospital, the commissioners would like more time. The project is likely to take up to four years to complete.

But in a month’s time, the commissioners must turn in a report to the judge naming the architect and the land where some kind of facility will be built.

And on Aug. 25, another showdown with an impatient judge will take place starting at 10:30 a.m. at the downtown federal courthouse.