FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Residents are looking at a $300 million price tag to build a new 510,000 square foot jail, a jail that is needed to address the county’s growing population, mental health and addiction needs, Allen County Commissioners heard Friday.

A special public hearing related to a jail feasibility study drew a crowd of residents, the three candidates running for Allen County Sheriff this year, law enforcement representatives and mental health advocates.

The next step toward determining whether the county will move forward with a $30 million addition to the existing downtown jail or decide to build a new, comprehensive modern jail will be an RFQ, Rich Beck, Allen County commissioner said after the meeting. RFQ stands for request for quote that would indicate a bid process.

“This is a very long process. This is just the beginning today. There will be many more public hearings to follow, lots of public input. This is a very extensive process. It’s going to take a lot of time to get this accomplished,” Beck said after the meeting.

The feasibility study was undertaken by Elevatus Architecture, a local firm that has built about 60 jails in the U.S. and helped with construction on about 200, including the new Adams County Jail and certain sections of the Marion County Jail.

A public hearing was held Feb. 25 by the Allen County Commissioners on an Allen County Jail Feasibility study prepared by Elevatus Architecture.

Cory Miller, Elevatus lead on the study made available last year, presented a fact-based report Friday indicating that the existing jail currently built to accommodate 741 inmates has been overcrowded for the past 20 years.

Overcrowding conditions led to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of behalf of inmates who said their civil rights were violated by the substandard conditions at the jail, one of the things that prompted the county to undertake the study.

With a projected county population of 420,000 in 20 years, the need for inmates beds is anywhere between 1,321 and 1,680, based on three different methodologies. Today’s county population is around 380,000, according to the U.S. Census.

Data shows that 15% to 20% of the jail population is women, a trend that is growing and up to 10% have mental health needs, but the mental health number is typically underreported and could be as high as 22%, Miller said. Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux has said that, at any one time, he may have 60% of his jail population on psychotropic drugs.

Some of the inmates are awaiting transfer to state and federal prisons and that percentage of inmates can be as high as 23%, with 8% of the beds occupied by federal inmates. About 15% of the beds in Allen County are Level 6 felons, mandated back to jails from state prisons in 2014 by state legislators. One of the reasons cited for the jail construction boom in Indiana has been the number of Level 6 felons kept at county jails instead of being incarcerated in state facilities, however legislators are now on their way to reversing that mandate.

It still doesn’t appear to be the solution to reducing jail populations in light of the expected county growth. One solution presented to nearby counties was a regional jail, a proposal that was rejected, Miller said. Outsourcing local inmates is also not practical. The closest jail is in Noble County that has 10 extra beds to offer at $45 a day, Miller reported.

Onsite expansion to the current jail could include two more floors to the south tower that would add 236 beds and cost between $23 and $25 million, however, the addition would still fall short of the 1,500 beds needed in the future.

Now jails are built on a POD system with one story with a mezzanine. The new design requires fewer employees because surveillance is easier and prevents inmates from flooding toilets and sending contraband vertically through the plumbing system. Inmates often deliver threats through the pipes as well, Gladieux has reported.

At a new location, the facility would bring to the county a 1,500 bed jail that would be “easily expandable,” allow for a separate mental health facility, a clinic and infirmary and moving the sheriff’s administration on site as well as other functions.  Elevatus estimated the new jail site would need to be on 60 to 75 acres.

“What’s important to talk about is that that 1,500 beds isn’t all individual cells or lock-em-up and throw away the key,” Miller said after the meeting. “That’s not justice today. The justice world and jails today need to present opportunities for rehabilitation, for good programming- and there’s a lot of good programming going on right now at the Allen County Jail and there has been in the past – but to provide more opportunities for addiction recovery, for mental health, and for medical care that has to occur in the jail. So it’s not just 1,500 beds. It’s really addressing as many things as can be made possible within the budget to help reduce recividivism.”

Speaking on behalf of addressing mental health and addiction were Audrey Davis, a former director with Faith in Indiana, Nate Moellering, a recovering addict and counselor with Fort Wayne Recovery, primary sheriff candidates Fort Wayne Police Department Capt. Kevin Hunter and FWPD Deputy Chief Mitch McKinney, Tim Stelle, and Alisha Rauch with Changemakers in Fort Wayne.

Rauch said she spent a year at the Allen County Jail and saw the same people come through again and again, obviously showing a need to address underlying issues.

Tim Dettmer, Allen County jail chaplain, championed reopening the fifth floor jail chapel, closed during the pandemic and getting more reading materials to the inmates.

Beck said the commissioners have already included addressing mental health concerns in the impending jail plan, be it an addition to the existing jail or replacing the jail that sits on coveted prime downtown real estate.

“There was a lot of discussion on mental health and I was very encouraged by the discussion on mental health because this country has refused to talk about mental health for a long time,” Beck said. ”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 country to see what other plans are taking place and what’s successful.  We’ll be modeling after a successful program somewhere else. “

Financing will most likely be a tax mechanism developed by state legislators that addresses jai and rehabilitation center construction, explained by Emma Adlam, a director with Baker Tilly municipal advisors based in Indianapolis.

Based on local income taxes or LIT, the rate is applied in increments between .01% and .2% is are not allowed to be in effect for more than 22 years, based on a graph Baker Tilly presented. For a jail this size, The the Correctional LIT rate would likely range between .10% and .20% for an annual revenue of between $10.8 million and $21.6 million. The county’s median household income of $54,857 would see an annual increase between $51 and $103, based on these figures.