FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Retired educator Sondra Brooks lives on the city’s southeast side. She’s lived there all her life. Her son attended Paul Harding High School, not far from the Allen County Sheriff’s K-9 training facility and shooting range at Paulding and Adams Center roads.

But now that the Allen County Commissioners have designated that 200-acre as the site for the new county jail, she’s upset.

One of several people who spoke publicly at the commissioners’ weekly Friday meeting, Brooks said her community was never consulted and the jail would upset the fragile and positive new development on the southeast side announced within the last year. And there was more.

“I don’t think any child should leave their school or go to their school in full view of a jail,” Brooks said, noting that Prince Chapman Academy is across the road and two other schools are nearby. “I’m not sure I can come up with any positive value of a jail being built in a community so close to schools such as southeast Allen County.”

Friday, the commissioners’ responded to criticism after they announced the chosen site the week before.

The north-west side of the intersection of Paulding Road and Adams Center Road in southeast Fort Wayne is shown. (Google Maps)

Commissioner Therese Brown acknowledged that there were no public hearings on that particular site and there were no meetings with the southeast community, but said no other property was suitable given the ultimatum by Federal Judge Damon R. Leichty. The judge’s deadline to choose a site was a month after their June 16 meeting at the federal courthouse.

The meeting was the result of a lawsuit filed against the commissioners and the Allen County Sheriff over inhumane conditions at the Allen County Jail. Filed in January, 2020 by the ACLU and Allen County inmates, Leichty rendered his opinion on March 29, siding with the plaintiffs and ordering vast changes.

The initial lawsuit prompted a study of the entire criminal justice system, including the jail. Since the downtown jail – overcrowded and understaffed – is no longer suitable because of its outdated design and semi-dilapidated condition, the commissioners have moved to build a new jail that will have separate quarters for the severely mentally ill and inmates in need of medical attention, they’ve said.

There aren’t enough usable acres on the 78-acre facility to build a new jail and Huntertown has two well heads on the property, commissioners say.

Brown apologized for the project’s expediency and blamed the judge’s order. Brown also said they would be meeting soon with city officials in response to a press conference Tuesday called by Sharon Tucker, city councilwoman, and Democrat colleagues Glynn Hines and Michelle Chambers, who vowed that the jail would not be built there. “Not on Our Watch,” they said.

“We would like to assure people that the structure to be built will not be an eyesore,” Brown said, speaking for the two other commissioners, Richard Beck and Nelson Peters. “It is not a prison. We fear people are imagining barbed wire and watch towers. This will not be the case.”

Brown noted that the existing downtown jail has no such fence or prison-like appearance and “no problems with the downtown community.”

Allen County has other detention centers in other parts of the county, Beck said. That would include Allen County Community Corrections off Cook Road in the northwest part of the county where a range of felons live at the residential services center, and the Allen County Juvenile Center on Wells Street, about two miles south of Coliseum Boulevard.

There’s been discussion about 70 acres on Lima Road that the county intends to sell once remediation is complete in an estimated two years. However, the former Irene Byron hospital site doesn’t have enough “usable acres,” Brown said, and Huntertown has two well heads on the property.  

Two industrial developments have been approved near the sheriff’s facility, she said, adding that the site is on the outskirts of the city, and rural.

“My job is not to tell the commissioners where to build the jail,” Brooks said. “I understand there’s so many other options across our county. Our job as citizens, as community members is to let our elected officials know that we don’t want it in our neighborhood. We also would like to be heard. I heard about this proposal on a Friday in the news and it was a shock to me.”