FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — As the dust begins to settle after a federal lawsuit found in favor of Allen County Jail inmates who demanded an end to what they described as inhumane conditions, local officials seem to be in brick-and-mortar mode for a new jail.

To get the earth movers digging the foundation, Allen County Commissioners Friday approved a $150,000 contract with Construction Control, Inc. The city-based construction management firm is responsible for many corrections, school and commercial buildings here and regionally is charged with a multitude of tasks including “working with the financial advisor to establish a master schedule of design and construction for overlaying funding sources.”

Elevatus Architecture, another local firm responsible for the construction or renovation of 60 jails nationwide, could be the designated project designer with the design portion of the project, estimated to be eight to 10 months. The firm conducted a study on the entire criminal justice system last year and devoted about a third of the 120-page report to the jail.

Construction will take up to three years and will cost between $200 million and $230 million, according to the agreement.

“It is the intent of the county to replace the existing jail with a facility of approximately 1,500 beds with some, if not all, of the sheriff’s departments included,” the document reads. The straightforward text implies that suggestions to add on to the aging downtown jail sitting on prime riverfront property is all but dead.

Nelson Peters, president of the three member county commissioners, says that isn’t so, but the terms of the CCI contract make it seem the project will go forward. Meeting the demands of Federal Judge Damon Leichty’s order only reinforce that.

Sheriff David Gladieux said Friday after the judge ruled that he is willing to sit down with the judge, the ACLU and other parties to fulfill the terms or the order.

That plan would have to include an increase in staffing — something which Gladieux and former sheriffs have argued is a necessity — and overcrowding which leads to a build-up of tension in a situation where people are sleeping on “boats” on the floor and recreation is minimal.

Peters said he still needs to wade through the 32-page report, but said staffing levels are the sheriff’s domain.

“We’ve got 45 days to come together with the sheriff and members of (county) council to decide what the future of criminal justice in Allen County looks like,” Peters said Monday. “We are prepared to answer the judge’s order in the prescribed time.” The timing puts the decision in mid-May.

Peters has been researching the medical situation of inmates which throws the financial liability on the county.  County taxpayers pay $2.8 million annually to Quality Correctional Care, Inc., a Carmel-based, for profit company that provides medical care at the jail. Medical care was at the top of the agenda at a JAVA meeting last month entitled “Jail Injustices at the Allen County Jail.” JAVA is a local, grassroots activist group involved in the criminal justice system.

Because of federal law, a person loses his or her medical eligibility once they are incarcerated, Peters said.

“We’ve got to work with the feds in a way they will continue the eligibility of those people incarcerated to receive Medicaid benefits and the associated dollars,” said Peters, adding that 20% of jail inmates have severe mental illness.

Gladieux has said that up to 60% of the jail population requires psychotropic drugs, drugs used to treat chronic mental illness.

New jails need to address this problem, something which Jack Krouse, CEO of Construction Control, pointed out on the company’s website.

“We have never seen a federal judge insist on anything but new construction following ACA guidelines,” Krouse wrote in web section entitled “Insights.” “We have been overseeing the design, bidding and construction of jails since 1980. In all that time, there has been little, if any thought, given specifically to the mentally ill which have and are becoming a major part of any jail problem.”

Monday, the jail population was at 830 inmates, nearly 100 more than the 741 the jail was built to accommodate. With Peters 20% analysis, that means that 166 inmates are inside an overcrowded jail with severe mental illness. That doesn’t count those with other health and mental health issues.

While the sheriff has insisted that a mental health and medical wing are necessary in a new jail, he’s not the only one talking about it.

Allen County Commissioner Richard Beck went on the record in late February after an Allen County Commissioner meeting, promising that a new jail would address the issue.

“This country has refused to discuss mental health for a long time. We had already included that in our plan. There will be a mental health component to this. We don’t know what that looks like yet. There are a lot of opportunities across the county to see what other plans are taking place and what’s successful. We’ll be modeling after successful programs somewhere else.”