FORT WAYNE, ind. – (WANE) Troy Hershberger, Chief Deputy, Allen County Sheriff’s Department, talks overcrowding at the Allen County Jail and potential effect of the state reversing its mandate sending Level 6 felony offenders to county jails instead of to a state prison.
Housing inmates at the Allen County Jail costs county taxpayers a premium over state reimbursements.
But now there’s a proposal that could lessen the financial load, if the measure passes.
A recent House committee proposal would reverse a previous mandate requiring local county jails to house Level 6 felony inmates. Instead, those offenders would serve their time at a state prison, like they did prior to 2014 when the mandate went into effect and swelled the county inmate populations.
Thursday, during a sit-down interview with Allen County Chief Deputy Troy Hershberger, WANE 15 learned that 137 Allen County offenders out of 816 currently incarcerated at the jail are sentenced Level 6. The jail was built to house 741, but inmate numbers typically range from 815 to 850, Hershberger said.
On Thursday there were also 159 offenders sitting in Allen County Jail on a probation violation that could possibly be sent to prison.
That’s nearly 300 offenders out of 816 that could be in a state prison and not burdening the county with associated costs. Hershberger said inmates could have other legal issues complicating their sentence, however.
“When you’re talking jail overcrowding, if we could get a 100 people out of there, do the math. That helps us immensely. It helps us in food, it helps us in uniform costs, all those things that an inmate has to have, the mats (for sleeping) and so on and so forth, to the staff that has to watch them, to the medical stuff, “ Hershberger said.
Daily inmate costs, including clothing, food and medical, come in around $55 to $60, but the state compensation is $37.50, Hershberger said. The county picks up the rest of the tab.
If the prison population were reduced by 100 inmates, the savings should be more that $600,000 a year.
Level 6 felonies are the lowest in rank and include domestic battery, drunk driving, theft, drug possession, neglect of a dependent, criminal confinement, sexual battery and counterfeiting.
Level 6 felony sentences range from six months to 2.5 years with up to a $10,000 fine.
“If we could get back to the way it was, then it certainly would help with our overcrowding today,” Hershberger said.
Some Level 6 offenders now serve out their time with Allen County Community Corrections, either on home detention or at the residential services center on Cook Road. Currently 191 offenders are at the residential services center where there is a ceiling of 230 occupants, Community Corrections director Kim Churchward said.
Churchward said her office is aware of this new wrinkle in House bill 1004.
“I can’t answer or predict if the option of IDOC (Indiana Department of Correction) incarceration for a level 6 defendant would affect our census, but I can say this with certainty: All of our Allen County criminal justice stakeholders (the Allen County Superior and Circuit criminal court judges, Allen County Prosecutor’s staff etc) are very forward-thinking and well versed in current research and evidence-based practices,” Churchward wrote in an email response.
“We have systems and programs well established and in place to help identify individuals who may benefit from rehabilitative interventions and be supervised safely and successfully in the community. It’s important to note, however, that these same community stakeholders are also focused and vigilant, balancing community safety with any identified rehabilitative needs,” Churchward added.
Even if the state legislature reversed its mandate, there is a need for a new county jail, according to Hershberger and Kyle Kerley, Allen County councilman.
The oldest part of the jail is 42 years old. The last update and addition occurred about 20 years ago, Hershberger said. It would be most likely cheaper in the long run to move the local jail out of the downtown where redevelopment is transforming the city, he added.
Building a new jail is a collaborative effort with input from the Allen County Commissioners, who own the property, the County Council, responsible for the funding mechanisms, and the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, tasked to run the jail efficiently and humanely.
“It’s not going to change that we probably need a new jail,” Kerley said. Estimates are a new jail could cost $150 million.