FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A new Allen County Jail will likely be built in the area of Adams Center and Paulding roads in the southeast part of Fort Wayne, according to newly filed federal court documents.
That’s the current site of the Allen County Sheriff’s firing range and land owned by the county.
Allen County Commissioners Richard Beck and Nelson Peters said Friday at the weekly legislative meeting that the order from Federal Judge Damon R. Leichty forced them to choose the site, but they will continue to vet other sites. If they determine another site meets the criteria – 60 to 70 acres with the appropriate soil to withstand such a complex – then the commissioners will petition the judge for a change. Commissioner Therese Brown was absent.
“The site was chosen because under the court ruling we had to come up with a site,” Beck said just after adjournment. “The only thing we had control over was the 200 acres we have at Adams Center and Paulding roads. So for submission purposes, we included that site. We continue to vet other sites. If we can find something more appropriate, we’ll petition the court to see if we can move it to another site.”
Meanwhile the 200-acre site has other activities on it such as the firing range used by the Allen County Sheriff’s Department and the Fort Wayne Police Department, an upcoming EV bike range and county horse trails.
City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker contacted WANE TV Friday to say she was “highly disappointed” the commissioners had chosen to build the new jail complex on the city’s southeast side. Although there is little residential development there, Tucker said she wasn’t made aware of the decision and it’s another “negative” for the area.
The catalyst to build a new jail complex was a federal lawsuit filed in January 2020 by the Indiana ACLU and inmates decrying inhumane conditions brought about by overcrowding and understaffing. Leichty ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on May 29 with a 30-page opinion criticizing the sheriff and blasting the commissioners. Leichty found unacceptable that so many inmates were sleeping on the floor on “boats,” -plastic shells fitted with mattresses – with their heads next to the cell toilet.
Leichty gave the sheriff and the commissioners 45 days to come up with a plan and reduce the population. The sheriff’s department lead booking officer, Anthony Malloris, has managed to lower the jail population from an average of 800 to Friday’s 671, less than 100 short of the judge’s ideal population of 592, or 80% of the jail capacity.
That reduction was accomplished working with the Indiana Department of Correction to take more sentenced felons to prison. The numbers for probation violators of all classes have remained steady.
On June 14, when the first meeting with Leichty occurred in Fort Wayne at the federal courthouse, there were 23 inmates sleeping in boats. At times, that number was 150. Friday there were four, according to jail statistics.
Leichty said at that time he wanted to see a long term plan in place in a month. With Thursday’s deadline, both the commissioners and the sheriff filed responses to his order.
Beck said at the meeting that expansion to the downtown jail was not an option. Problems with outdated vertical facilities are documented: more staff is required, maintenance is tougher and, at the Allen County Jail, contraband and threats are delivered through the toilets and plumbing. Inmates also routinely flood the jail.
County officials have estimate a new jail would cost roughly $350 million.
According to the documents filed late Thursday, Allen County officials will need to apply for approval from the Fort Wayne Board of Zoning Appeals for “contingent use” in order to build the facility. A more detailed survey of the site and other architectural work may be needed before a hearing with that board, officials wrote in court documents. Two weeks ago, Elevatus Architecture, the local firm that has built or helped design more than 80 jails nationwide, was chosen as the architect. Elevatus was commissioned for a study on the entire criminal justice system. The study was released last year.
Applications to the board of zoning appeals for contingent use facilities are due on Aug. 2, court documents said.
County officials are looking at having a concept for the new jail ready by Sept. 30 followed by a schematic design by Dec. 31. Design development and construction documents would follow in April and September of 2023, court documents said.
Bidding is scheduled to take place by November 2023 and construction might start in April 2024, officials wrote in court documents.