FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Efforts to improve the state of affairs inside the Allen County Jail have been too little and too slow, according to a new court filing Wednesday from the Indiana ACLU and inmates over inhumane conditions.

With less than a month to go before the second showdown to appear in front of a federal judge Aug. 25, the ACLU has come back at the Allen County Sheriff and the Commissioners to say little progress has been made to increase staffing or lower inmate numbers, given the ongoing number of violent jail incidents evenly split among inmate vs. inmate and inmate vs. staff.

Allen County Jail public entry

Ken Falk, the lead ACLU attorney on the case, sent a letter to local judges, prosecutor, public defender and probation to suggest creating a Criminal Justice Planning Committee to review court practices and said the projected five years to construct a new jail is way too long.

“I don’t argue that,” Sheriff David Gladieux said Wednesday, referring to the 5-year construction timeline, but said progress has been made in lowering the average jail inmate population from around 800 to 680. The judge wants it lowered to about 80% capacity, or around 590. “Obviously the judges are adjusting some things. We’re trying to. I can’t just not accept prisoners.”

The ACLU has been tracking the county’s response to federal judge Damon R. Leichty’s orders handed down June 16 at a federal court hearing here.  Written by the ACLU’s Kenneth J. Falk and Stevie J. Pactor, the filing complains that the commissioners – the county authority responsible for selecting a site and building a new jail or renovating the one downtown – are taking too long to start construction and taking five years to complete it.

Commissioner Nelson Peters deferred on commenting on the new filing until he’s able to read it, he said.

The commissioners chose the Allen County Sheriff’s grounds at Adams Center and Paulding roads as the site for the new jail to comply with the Leichty’s July 14 deadline as part of a long term solution. The county had to swing into action after Leichty sided on March 31 with a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU and inmates over inhumane conditions at the jail brought on by overcrowding and understaffing.

ACLU says it has ‘concerns’

Even with some progress on reducing inmate numbers and selecting a site, the ACLU says it has “concerns.”

The site will require approval from the Fort Wayne Board of Zoning Appeals. To get on the BZA’s Sept. 22 agenda, the commissioners would need to file a “contingent use application” by Aug. 2.

With zoning board approval uncertain, it could make progress even slower. Jail construction is projected to start in April 2024 in a timeline the ACLU calls an “extremely prolonged period,” and wonders why there is such a “long lag time. The county should be prepared to discuss why the process will take almost five years,” the filing says.

The ACLU also questioned the commissioners’ choice of building 1100 beds when a jail study projected a need for 1500 beds.

“At 1100 beds, the new jail will be overcrowded at between 880 and 935 prisoners. Given that the average population of the jail was 861 in 2019, having a jail with 1,100 beds means that extraordinary efforts must be made by all entities in the Allen County criminal justice system to keep the popuation under control or the new jail will be overcrowded as soon as it opens,” the filing states.

Gladieux agreed.

“It should be 1,500 beds, period. We’re just repeating what they did years ago, trying to save as much money as they can. In the long run, that’s a disservice to the taxpayers.

“Everything the ACLU says supports a larger jail,” Gladieux added, predicting that the numbers will rise again.

Sheriff is actively recruiting

Down 18 jailers, the sheriff’s department has spent $50,000 this year from commissary funds to recruit qualified people to work at the jail, according to Deputy Chief Troy Hershberger. He anticipates getting together with the County Council to brainstorm on recruitment.

Chief Deputy Troy Hershberger with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department looks over recruitment data for the department.

“We bring applicants in weekly and over the course of the last year, we’ve spent approximately $50,000 on recruitment. That’s advertising on various radio stations. For example, a kiosk at the Glenbrook Mall, you’ll see an advertisement on there for recruitment.”

Another example would be promoting from within as an incentive and only promote from the ranks of our jail staff and our court security staff,” Hershberger said. Working with the county, the sheriff’s department would like to offer financial incentives. Starting salary is $21.75 an hour for confinement officers.

Once the new jail is built, the job could be sold on the basis of a modern building with modern amenities, Hershberger said.

Keeping the inmate number at 680 or lower would be “a juggling act,” Hershberger said. “Our goal is to collaborate, work with everybody, say this is where we want to be, where our target is and hopefully, our goal is to attain those numbers. It’ll be a daily battle.”

ACLU wants planning committee

Kenneth Falk, center, and Steve Pactor (left) with Indiana ACLU filed a response in federal court to responses from the Allen County Sheriff’s Department and Allen County Commissioners in the ongoing Allen County Jail lawsuit.

Within the criticisms that included the county not choosing a jail funding mechanism yet, Falk and Pactor included a suggestion to create a Criminal Justice Planning Committee like the one created in Marion County in 2006 when a group of stakeholders there addressed overpopulation and the usual problems at the county jail.

The committee included judges, prosecutors, public defenders and the crime lab to “ensure that cases proceeded more expeditiously through the court system.” Methods included establishing night court, an expedited probation violations docket,, directing the Marion County Probation Department to produce pre-sentence investigation reports more quickly, and limited continuances in certain criminal cases,” the filing stated.

The idea was that the “swift resolution of cases would help move persons through the Marion County Jail more quickly.”

The “same type of focused approach,” has not taken place in Allen County, the filing stated. The filing authors said they sent a copy of the judge’s order creating the committee to stakeholders in Allen County. “As of yet, there has been no response received from any person to whom the letter was sent or from any designee o those persons,” the filing stated.

That letter dated July 11 was sent to Judges Wendy Davis, Fran Gull, and Jennifer DeGroote, Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, Chief Public Defender William Lebrato and Chief Probation Officer Eric Zimmerman.