In time for a showdown with federal judge Damon R. Leichty, Allen County Jail inmate numbers are going down dramatically.

The drop was noted by Allen County Commissioners on Friday who are making plans to meet with Leichty on June 16 at 1:30 p.m. at the federal courthouse downtown.

The drop comes from the partnership between the Allen County Sheriff’s Department and the Indiana Department of Corrections, although the commissioners cancelled a contract with the U.S. Marshall’s Office which has drained the jail of federal inmates.

Unfortunately, with the cancellation goes more than $1 million to help fund the jail.

But Leichty made it clear in his March 31 opinion that the jail numbers needed to be at 732 or below. Conditions at the jail were exposed after inmates and the ACLU sued the sheriff and commissioners in January 2020 and the judge agreed with the plaintiffs.

Leichty gave the defendants 45 days to comply with his demands that overcrowding be reduced to 732 instead of the 800 jail average, that recreation be instituted three times a week for each inmate and that the number of people sleeping in overcrowded cells come down.

INMATES SLEEPING ON FLOORS REDUCED

It’s been difficult to reduce the number of people sleeping in “boats,” the plastic shells fitted with a mattress, because of the requirements to separate certain jail populations.

Friday, that boat number was the lowest in months at 34. The total population on Friday was 713 with 36 people in lock-up and six federal inmates. Most of the federal inmates have been relocated to a correctional facility in northwest Ohio, so the low number reflects federal inmates transferred for hearings or just picked up by law enforcement.

While the numbers inch down, the number of probation violators holds steady except probation violators from Allen Superior Court. That number was reduced to 161, lower than the typical 170 to 180.

Contrast those numbers with last Friday when the inmate population was 723 with 27 in lock-up, nine federal inmates and 99 sleeping in boats. The number of inmates the jailers had to keep separate was 215, a number that didn’t change.

Nor did it change on May 27, the two Fridays prior but the number of inmates sleeping in boats was 117.

While the sheriff’s department tries to pull the numbers down, it’s unclear how it’ll be able to get to 592 – the number the judge wants – until the sentenced Level 6 felons can also be transferred to prison.

LEVEL 6 FELONS MAY MOVE TO STATE PRISONS IN JULY

That may come about in July when the state legislature reverses its 2014 decision mandating Level 6 felons remain in county jails. That number consistently hovers around 130. But only the newly-sentenced will be sent there, local officials say.

Sheriff David Gladieux envisioned moving those felons to the Venture Lane facility where Allen County Community Corrections houses between 170 and 180 offenders. Gladieux thought the facility could be shared, he has said, but Allen County courts forced his work release program to shut down after all applications were denied between November 2019 and June 2020.

A sheriff-run work release is still a possibility if a new jail is built.

At least, Allen County Council president Kyle Kerley said maybe a 40-50 bed facility might be designed as part of a corrections complex that may be inevitable when the judge has his final say.

JAIL’S ROTTING INFRASTRUCTURE COULD SPEED CALLS FOR A NEW JAIL

Earlier this week, WANE TV obtained photos of the rotting jail infrastructure in the oldest and largest wing built in 1981.

Gladieux said maintenance crews found the rotting pipes and other metal items after problems surfaced.

“Obviously those pipes are inside, encased in concrete,” Gladieux said earlier this week. “When we have an issue, that’s when it’s found They’re steel pipes so they rot.” The photos were taken in the last year, he added.

Gladieux has been advocating for a new, more efficient jail for a long time. The photos expose reasons why a new jail is needed besides the benefits from building a one story POD system that requires fewer confinement officers and keeps inmates from sending items through the plumbing or delivering threats “through the bowl.”

New jail construction features steel cells with the infrastructure installed behind the cells in a catwalk area, easily accessed for plumbing issues, Gladieux said.

JAIL MAINTENANCE RUNS ABOUT $400,000 ANNUALLY

On Friday, Commissioner Nelson Peters estimated that about $2.5 million has been spent in the last six years on jail maintenance.

The annual maintenance budget for more than 40 county buildings runs about $4.5 million, according to the 2022 annual county budget.

About $1.2 million was spent to replace an outdated camera surveillance system, but newer jail design allows for more areas to be covered by cameras. Peters said replacing door locks is another $1 million item that’s coming.

MENTAL HEALTH IS A BIG PUBLIC CONCERN

A new jail would be more efficient and a complex would offer options that aren’t available now.

Much discussion has been about providing better mental health and drug programs at the jail and even building a medical wing at a new jail. State prison psychiatric hospitals at Richmond and Logansport have a waiting list anyway, according to local jail officials.

While Gladieux has estimated that 60% of Allen County inmates are on psychotropic drugs, Commissioner Richard Beck says the number of inmates with mental health issues could be as high as 80% to 100%. Mental health has become his niche concern, something which he brings up at the Friday weekly legislative meetings.

But will a new jail be built and at the suggested cost of $350 million on 70 acres somewhere in Allen County?

“I don’t have a clue,” Peters says. “The judge is going to make that decision.”