FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Allen County Commissioners didn’t avoid the May 16 deadline to reduce the number of inmates at the Allen County Jail at the weekly Friday morning meeting.
Instead, they produced plans to show they’ve been working on reaching the jail’s target population of 732 inmates ordered by a U.S. District Court judge. But jail numbers have stayed stubbornly high since March 31 when Judge Damon R. Leichty sided with Allen County inmates, agreeing the jail is overcrowded, inhumane, unsanitary and unsafe.
Without being sure what the penalties are for not abiding by the judge’s order, Commissioners Richard Beck and Nelson Peters said they were confident the 732 number could be reached, mainly by shipping inmates out of the jail. To track jail updates, the commissioners created a special webpage at allencounty.us/jail.
Commissioners cancel contract to hold federal inmates
Friday, Beck and Peters said steps had been taken to cancel the contract with the federal government accepting federal inmates and were making hopeful plans with the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) to take some level 6 felony inmates. In 2014, the state legislature mandated the return of Level 6 felony offenders to county jails in order to reduce the state’s prison population. The move swelled the population of county jails and forced many to undertake new construction to house them.
“We have been working diligently with the sheriff to try to accomplish what the judge has ordered us to do,” Beck said after the meeting. “We have canceled the federal reserve hold contract we had with the federal government to hold their federal prisoners. That’s a number between 30 and 50. We’re working with the state of Indiana to improve the number of prisoners we can send down there, working with the sheriff to get that number increased.”
They are also attempting to find a parcel of land that needs to be around 70 acres within the Interstate 69 and Interstate 469 boundary of the city. The site needs to have water, sewer, broadband and public transportation. No site has been selected, Beck said.
“The reason we need 70 acres is to simply prepare for the future, just in case there’s a need to increase the size of the jail,” Beck said. “I think the sheriff has said, ‘We get one chance at it and we can’t screw that up’.”
Friday, the jail population once again hovered around its usual 800 mark at 821 inmates. There were 24 federal inmates, 34 federal holds for the U.S. Marshall and 131 sentenced Level 6 felony offenders. There were also 181 probation violators, 15 offenders ordered to return by the court and 30 inmates incarcerated after being sentenced for misdemeanors. All of those numbers have been static for weeks.
The county would need 1,500 beds compared to the 732 the jail is built to accommodate now for future needs, based on projected population growth presented in a jail study by Elevatus Architecture, but activist groups are fighting for less traditional incarceration in favor of alternative sentencing.
“A large portion of those folks don’t belong in the jail. They belong in some mental health facility,” Beck said, a point he has made previously.
Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group wants fewer in jail
Sean Colletine of the Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group said his group wants cooperation between the Allen County Sheriff, the judicial system, “the sentence determiners,” and the policing system or “the enforcers.” Beck said later that community alternatives are addressed by Allen County Community Corrections that keeps people out of jail while serving their sentence.
Another issue the commissioners and others want to address is medical assistance. Beck said once the incarcerated are convicted, they lose Medicaid assistance and that cost falls on county taxpayers instead of the federal government.
The commissioners’ stance is now more compliant rather than blaming the Allen County Sheriff for jail conditions as they did when plaintiffs moved for a summary judgment in December. At that time, the sheriff presented one objection compared to the commissioners’ five.
In his 32-page opinion, Leichty blasted the commissioners for declaring it wasn’t unconstitutional if inmates had to sleep next to toilets in overcrowded cells, or that clogging pipes and maintenance issues related to the building’s age weren’t a constitutional violation.
Then, the commissioners argued that they had fulfilled their obligations by providing a jail, but Leichty responded that “Sheriff (David) Gladieux cannot discharge his duty to take care of the prisoners at the jail because the commissioners have not provided a suitable jail – the necessary means to discharge his duty consistent with Indiana law.”
Sheriff says cancelation was done “behind his back”
Friday afternoon, Gladieux said during a phone interview that there’s been little communication between his office and the commissioners, but he did receive an interdepartmental letter indicating the commissioners canceled the federal contract for inmates signed by him.
“It’s interesting how they made all those decisions without talking to the sheriff who has the authority to cancel contracts or any transfer of inmates. They’re doing this behind my back,” Gladieux said. With his signature on the federal contract, it will be necessary for him to approve or disapprove it.
Another issue is the number of Allen County Sheriff’s deputies and Fort Wayne police officers who serve on federal task forces here – the FBI, the ATF and the DEA.
“We’ve always taken federal inmates,” Gladieux said. “I have four officers assigned to federal task forces in this county. Now when they have somebody, where are they supposed to take them?”
Real relief will come from Allen County judges and prosecutors, the ones who are responsible for charging and incarcerating people, Gladieux said.
In the end, Gladieux said while he houses inmates, he doesn’t put them there.
“I hold the key to the jail. I lock people up,” said Gladiuex. “I don’t decide who gets to go home and who goes to jail.”