FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The Allen County Commissioners now have an eighth site they’re 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 will not identify the possible locations, however.
“We’re hoping to make a site selection as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we have to go through the vetting process. We do a preliminary review of the sites when we become aware of them. If we feel like it has any viability then we send it off to the architect and do a very in depth matrix they’ve put together to assess whether or not it makes sense for us to do that project,” Commissioner Richard Beck said Friday.
“So it takes time. We did get another location this week. Preliminarily, it looks okay. We’ll put that over to the architect and have them look at it as well,” Beck continued.
Damon R. Leichty, federal judge assigned to a lawsuit brought by the Indiana ACLU and Allen County inmates over inhumane conditions at the jail, has been determined to wring changes in the way Allen County treats its inmates ever since he released his opinion on March 31, ordering the county by way of the commissioners and the Allen County Sheriff, to lower the population, hire more staff and get people out of sleeping in boats, one of his pet peeves.
“The judge wants to see a purchase agreement, so that will be in there for sure,” Beck promised.
The commissioners would not divulge where the latest site for the $300-$350 million project might be located. To date, the public knows that the current choice is the Allen County Sheriff’s training center at Adams Center and Paulding roads, a 200-acre plot of land that is home to the Allen County SWAT team, the K-9 training center, the new e-bike facility and, to come, five miles of public horse trails.
The sheriff’s facility came under criticism from local elected officials and activists who said the community on the southeast side of the city, a primarily underserved community, objected to having something so negative as a jail there, particularly when it is within viewing distance of four public schools.
Another site undergoing environmental testing is 2911 Meyer Road, close to the sheriff’s facility. It’s unknown if that site is still being considered.
The site eventually chosen needs to be about 70 acres with good enough soil to withstand a jail.
Cory Miller, principal architect with Elevatus Architecture, the designated jail architect, outlined a list of specifications Friday at the commissioners’ weekly meeting to help the public put the project into perspective.
Basic needs are that the property be:
- 60-75 acres
- Inside the I-69/I-469 loop
- On or near a bus route
- Not in a flood zone or flood way
- Served by or near a public sewer
- Served by municipal water
- broadband available
Miller outlined other considerations Friday:
- Proximity to neighbors, possibly negatively
- Sources of excessive noise like manufacturing or industrial
- On an airport flight path
- Jail as a negative to future development
- Sources for foul odors or polluted air
- Road access and access to major thoroughfares
- Environmental concerns as in natural resources
- Green building considerations for site
Miller said any site on a major road such as Coliseum Boulevard would not be considered a good site.
“Just based on the numbers of traffic and getting in and out of there, but more importantly, when there are emergency runs, this is not just a jail and in all likelihood, this is most of the sheriff’s department, so we want to make sure when they have to make emergency runs or emergency runs are made to the jail by ambulance or fire department, that there’s access to those major thoroughfares,” Miller said at the meeting during a public presentation.
Miller said if the jail is in a rural area, it wouldn’t make sense to have all the court facilities there and would score low on the chart for considerations. Cost is another consideration if the property is privately owned, instead of public land like the sheriff’s facility.
Today, the jail population was at 704 inmates with 23 sleeping in boats, the plastic rowboat shaped shells inmates are forced to sleep in when inmate classifications end up with more inmates in some blocks and fewer in others. Often those who sleep in boats have their heads located next to the cell toilet, something which Leichty found particularly offensive.
He also said inmates and confinement officers’ safety was jeopardized when the jail was overpopulated.
Although the jail staff has been working with the Indiana Department of Correction to keep the numbers below 741 – the number the jail is built to accommodate – by sending inmates to state prisons, the number is nowhere near the 532 number Leichty wants. The 532 represents about 85% jail capacity which would reduce stress on the many inmate classifications required.
Some numbers have stayed the same: Circuit court probation violations were at 12, Community Corrections violations, 24; pre-trial felony inmates, 261; pre-trial misdemeanor inmates, 16; probation violations, 175; and sentenced Level 6 felons at 130.