ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — The Allen County commissioners may be back to square one.
Commissioner Rich Beck told WANE 15 Friday that the 8 possible locations for a new county jail have each “failed” and the county is looking for a new site.
“We’re out looking for sites because we’ve gone through our 8 and they’ve all failed at some point in time,” Beck told WANE 15.
“We’re as frustrated as we can be, but we can’t stand around and be frustrated, we’ve got to start looking for spots,” he added.
Friday evening, The Allen County Board of Commissioners released the following statement attempting to clarify, but seeming to contradict, some of the remarks made earlier today:
The Allen County Commissioners continue to oversee an intensive, comprehensive process to find the ideal location for a new county jail. This process includes judging each potential location against an objective, rigorous set of criteria. Each location may not meet one or multiple aspects of that set of criteria and still be considered a viable option. Therefore, it’s important to note that not all of the properties the Commissioners are currently evaluating have been eliminated – some have, but not all.
Two weeks ago, the commissioners said in their regular weekly meeting that the county had an eighth site they were scoping out for the new jail or jail complex, and they intend to have a purchase agreement by the end of December when they meet again with a federal judge.
The commissioners have never identified the possible locations, other than the original sheriff’s training ground at Adams Center and East Pauling roads and a property at 2911 Meyer Road.
Commissioner Therese Brown said Friday the Adams Center location remains a “last resort.”
The county has a little more than two months before it must produce a purchase order on a new jail site to a federal judge.
Changemakers co-founder Daylana Saunders sticks by what she said last Friday, that she believes the commissioners have already decided on the site at Adams Center and Paulding.
“Changemakers continuously warns the community that there are not eight locations . There has been a decision made on Paulding and Adams Center,” Saunders said. “The Commissioners are drawing it out until the December decision but they have landed on the decision and the location for southeast Fort Wayne, southeast Allen County. We are not to be fooled that they have changed their mind.”
The order came after Federal Judge Damon R. Leichty sided with the Indiana ACLU and Allen County inmates in a federal lawsuit filed January 2020, claiming inhumane treatment at the Allen County Jail because of overcrowding and understaffing. The lawsuit was filed against the Commissioners who are in charge of maintaining the jail and the Allen County Sheriff who operates the jail. The judge delivered his opinion March 31, throwing the commissioners into a race to find a location to replace the aging, semi-dilapidated downtown jail that sits on three acres of prime real estate.
Commissioners have stipulated that they need between 60 and 70 acres for a jail and potentially a jail complex that would include a separate wing for a mental health facility and a 40-50 inmate area for a county work release program, separate from the Allen County Community Corrections run by the Allen County court system.
But the site also has to meet environmental and soil conditions and that is more difficult, says Commissioner Richard Beck who spoke Friday at the meeting. Now the only viable site appears to be the Allen County Sheriff’s training facility at Adams Center and Paulding roads.
But residents on the city’s southeast are fighting that decision, arguing that the facility sits across the road from the Prince Chapman Academy, an elementary school where children already hear gunfire as the sheriff’s department and Fort Wayne Police Department officers train.
Commissioners also announced they were speaking with state officials on a facility for the severely mentally ill who currently are incarcerated at the jail, sometimes estimated at 20%. Richard Beck said the commissioners are hearing there could be a regional mental health facility in Allen County, however, he wasn’t sure which counties would be included.
It would take some of the burden off the overcrowded jail which today has 694 inmates, but has housed up to 916 pre-COVID, Sheriff David Gladieux said last week. That would mean about 140 inmates currently at the jail need special attention that the jail is not able to provide.