FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Local officials won’t say for certain they are planning to build a new $350 million county jail.
What is certain are the steps the Allen County Commissioners have taken in the last week to make a new jail a reality.
Friday, the commissioners approved a resolution allowing them to reimburse expenditures related to any jail bonding. Commissioners’ president Nelson Peters said some of those costs would include architectural fees and paying a construction manager.
On April 1, the commissioners voted to hire Construction Control, Inc., a construction management firm based here, to oversee all aspects of construction. That contract cost $150,000.
In Friday’s resolution, the county is directed to pay some initial project costs from the county’s EDIT Fund, cumulative Capital Development Fund and General fund.
Earlier this week, Nelson Peters, the commissioners’ president, said he expected the jail complex would be financed through a variety of funding measures that would include bonds. Barnes & Thornburg’s Indianapolis office and Ice Miller, another law firm with expertise in this type of financing, have been consulted on the project which apparently has moved along at a greater speed than normal.
County officials, including Sheriff David Gladieux and the county commissioners, were given 45 days to come up with a plan to address the overcrowding and associated problems at the jail after Federal Judge Damon J. Leichty found in favor of the ACLU and Allen County inmates who sued the county demanding an end to “inhumane conditions” at the jail.
“Obviously 45 days suggests that we’ve got to move reasonably quickly,” Peters said after the commissioners’ meeting Friday morning. “At the end of the day, there are some changes that are going to need to be made…We’re really sort of laying the groundwork to provide as much flexibility in ultimately arriving at a decision, whether it’s alternative sentencing or building a new jail.”
The judge has demanded to see how the county intends to reduce the population to 730 inmates from an average of about 800 inmates, and, if they are to build a new jail, the judge wants to see the plans.
“In the immediate future we need to get down to 730 inmates,” Peters said. “We can do that under the current jail structure, but obviously we’ve got to think about the long term and what the implications for criminal justice in Allen County area are.
Plans were already in the works for a new jail last year when the county commissioned a study of the entire county criminal justice system executed by Elevatus Architecture, a local firm with with a dossier of more than 60 jail constructions nationwide.
Rev. Timothy Murphy of Plymouth Congregation Church was one of a few speakers at the Friday meeting to ask for more alternative sentencing.
“If we build a new jail, it’s just going to be filled. We need to work towards alternatives to that and jails might be appropriate, but care first for people with mental health issues, with substance abuse issues, housing issues,” Murphy said, emphasizing that using “jails as a last resort will help reduce the intensity and overpopulation and make it so that we don’t need a new facility.”
The commissioners issued a statement Tuesday listing steps already taken, such as commissioning the study on the entire criminal justice system in Allen County.
One of those steps was shipping out 50 federal inmates the Allen County Sheriff has accepted in the past. Friday, 27 federal inmates remained at the jail.
But the preponderance of inmates are Level 6 felony inmates. On Friday there were more than 300 Level 6 inmates and 220 inmates who had violated one of the county programs – parole, probation, Allen County Community Corrections and Re-entry Court.
“A lot of these decisions are made through the judiciary (system) right now. Long term, we’re going to have to work with our judicial counterparts here in Allen County to see if there are ways to get to that point with both some of the level 6 folks who are in the jail now as well as the probation violators,” Peters said.
The jail is routinely overcrowded and has become more so since the state legislature passed legislation in 2014 sending Level 6 Felony prisoners back to county jails. The legislation, designed to reduce Indiana’s prison population, spurred new jail construction.
Then, in 2018, state legislation offered counties a new financing measure called “local income tax” rate or LIT to build jails. LIT rates are allowed up to 0.2% per dollar, but are used in increments of 0.01% per dollar of income tax and cannot be in effect for more than 22 years, according to information at a February commissioners’ meeting.
On a home valued at about $123,000, the tax liability would range from about $31 to $62 annually, according to information sheets provided by Baker Tilly, municipal advisors present at the meeting. LIT taxes can also be used to pay for rehabilitation facilities, the advisors said.