FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Deputy Chief David Butler, Allen County Jail Commander, says the 1981 jail is too far gone to repair.

As at least one local protest group opposes building a new jail here, Allen County officials are asking the public to consider the state of the existing jail downtown.

Sitting on about three acres bounded by Clinton, Calhoun and West Superior streets with the St. Marys River to the north but out of eye shot, the jail was originally built in 1981. That original 350-bed wing, which houses the most inmates, is outdated and in disrepair to the point it doesn’t make sense to fix it.

“The obvious issue that everyone keeps skipping over is the condition of the 1981 portion of the jail and its rotting infrastructure when they say we don’t need a new jail,” Butler said in a text Tuesday.

According to the Jail Feasibility Study released in February by the Allen County Commissioners, the existing jail offers little opportunity for expansion, and is landlocked. To expand on the site would require tearing the 1981 building down and replacing it in a projected 3-year time frame. Or adding on to the 2004 expansion that wouldn’t relieve the overcrowding.

Photos provided by Butler show the rotting infrastructure. What the photos don’t show is the inefficiencies of the jail that keep both inmates and confinement officers unsafe – blocked corners where cameras don’t reach and aging pipes that are constantly flooded , used to deliver drugs and notes besides threats voiced “through the bowl.”

The Allen County Commissioners are responsible for the jail maintenance.

The unsanitary and unsafe conditions became of paramount importance after the ACLU and inmates sued the Allen County Sheriff and Allen County Commissioners over inhumane conditions in January 2020.

Federal judge Damon R. Leichty agreed with the plaintiffs in a March 31 opinion and gave the defendants 45 days to make it right. The population count needs to be reduced from the typical 800 to no more than 732, but eventually the jail population must be 80% of that. Inmates have to be offered recreation indoors and out three times a week. That schedule started Saturday, Butler said.

Sean Collentine with Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group

A long-term solution is a new jail with 1,500 beds, a projection based on the county’s increasing population growth. Another solution is new construction for certain classifications of prisoners while maintaining some or all of the existing facility for other classifications, amounting to up to 1,500 beds.

Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group and Help not Handcuffs oppose a new jail, citing the $350 million estimate to build an entirely new jail on 70 acres or $25 million to make upgrades to the newer portion of the jail built in 2004 that still wouldn’t provide the number of beds needed. It also wouldn’t provide a mental health wing all parties say is necessary.

Sean Collentine with Alternatives to Incarceration says he will present Plan C, a proposal that was to be presented Tuesday, but the press conference was canceled. Tuesday he released a statement to say it would take “much longer” to develop the alternative than predicted.

He and his coalition partners will spend time meeting with county and city decision makers “that need to be aligned and enrolled into building that strong alternative vision,” he wrote in a statement.

But the decision makers are on board with many of the principles the coalition is fighting for, namely a mental health wing.

“I’ve actually worked with Sean on some issues. He and I have spent time together. I think we understand each other. We’ve got a mental health issue in the jail we’ve got to figure out how to solve as a part of any settlement,” County Commissioner Nelson Peters said. “I’m hoping we can help him understand there are a number of moving parts to the issue including those inflicted with mental health. At the end of the day, it’s going to be up to the judge.”