ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) –Allen County Council is looking to vote on funding for the Allen County Jail right before a federal judge’s Nov. 1 deadline.
Council president Tom Harris predicted Thursday after the council’s budget meeting that the council will be prepared to vote Monday Oct. 30 or Tuesday Oct. 31.
Allen County Commissioners and the county council are working on four different scenarios, according to Harris, that could bring about a vote as early as next week, but more likely for the very end of October.
WANE 15 spoke to Harris and council vice president Paul Lagemann who said the jail’s $300 million projected cost is not set in stone.
Funding is projected to be a combination of money from the county’s Economic Development Commission, a jail local income tax currently proposed at .2% and cash on hand.
According to Thursday’s calculations, the county has about $50 million in its coffers, a fund that grows yearly at around $5 million of unspent taxpayers’ money.
“Now we’re looking down the proverbial barrel of the judge’s gun to make sure that we get this done,” Lagemann said after the budget meeting.
The new jail has been in the works since a federal judge in March 2022 ordered changes at the Allen County Jail to reverse inhumane conditions. At last week’s status hearing, Judge Damon R. Leichty said he’d seen no other solutions to the jail he described “at the end of its useful life.”
A group called Allen County Residents Against the Jail issued a plan this week that calls for building a new 2-story pod onto the jail in the north parking area that’s about 50 yards wide and adding two more floors onto the existing 4-story jail.
The Indiana ACLU filed Thursday rejecting the residents’ proposal.
However, the plan does not address outdoor recreation and recreation is one of the pillars of Leichty’s order. The jail is landlocked amidst a swirl of downtown development and directly south, the Bud Meeks Justice Center which includes the Allen County Lock-up and Misdemeanor courts, among other justice-related departments.
Several people used the time early on in the budget meeting to protest plans for the new 1,100-bed jail to be built at 2911 Meyer Road. They represent residents of the Sunnymede subdivision abutting the Meyer Road property, individuals who oppose incarceration and some who oppose the commissioners.
The protesters have aligned themselves with Councilman Ken Fries who has said he wants other options studied, but in the past, called for a justice complex that would include not just the jail, but courts, the sheriff’s department and other components of the criminal justice system.
“We’ve been in dialogue very closely with the commissioners,” Lagemann said. “We’ve come a long way in the last couple of weeks.”
Lagemann said the funding will be a “combination of an existing tax, a new jail lit and cash. My hope is we have a very clean package, detailed in nature that we can hand to the judge and say, this is the funding mechanism for whatever we’re going to do.”
Harris said there are large groups in the community who support a new jail, including the confinement officers who work there, and police in both the county and city
If the council doesn’t act, options could include a lawsuit filed against the county council, enjoining the council on to the present lawsuit filed in January 2020 or more extreme measures like capping the number of inmates at 585, the ideal number for full capacity. The jail was built to hold 741 beds, but requiring certain inmates to be segregated causes the overflow in some blocks.
Harris said, “It’s become evident with both my presence in front of a federal judge as well as our county attorney as well as our council attorney as well as the attorneys that represent the commissioners that the federal judge has made it very clear he will not want to come back to this community without a resolution. And if he does, he indicated at the hearing, it would not be pleasant for Allen County.”