FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)– Allen County Community Corrections has a new website where people in the system can schedule urine tests and visits and pay fees.

The website is more “participant focused,” the community corrections advisory board heard Thursday at its third meeting of the year held at the Day Reporting Center on Superior Street.

The website has information including the names of the board members. Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull chairs the board; Allen Circuit Court judge Wendy Davis is vice-chair.

The website also posts jobs available within the department including the residential services center on Venture Lane off Cook Road and home detention. Photos of events held for offenders will be posted. County officials estimate that community corrections have more than 10,000 people under supervision.

The residential services center that opened in August 2020, is where offenders serve their sentence under work release style supervision. Currently, there are 173 offenders living at the center which can accommodate up to 230 people. More than 600 are men, Gull said Thursday.  About 80% are employed and employers work with community corrections to find them jobs.

The center has instituted home passes that Gull reported have been “wildly successful.” A home pass is something an offender has to earn.

Chief Deputy Troy Hershberger

Enough people have been hired at the center to allow employees to go on an 8-hour shift. Before they were on 12-hour shifts which made the job more difficult.

Davis said she was aware of offenders who turned their lives around at the residential services center. “Otherwise they’d be in jail,” Davis said.

The next advisory board meeting is scheduled to take place on Aug. 11, after the commissioners and sheriff meet with Federal judge Damon R. Leichty on June 16. Leichty came down hard on Allen County for its understaffed jail with inhumane conditions after the ACLU and inmates sued, saying they’d been treated inhumanely.

While commissioners and the sheriff have worked to reduce the population from an average of 800 to the maximum Leichty will accept – 732 – no policy changes on who gets arrested, charged, and convicted have been discussed publicly.

But Chief Deputy Troy Hershberger of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department said after the meeting that the sheriff’s department works to facilitate the transfer of inmates to community corrections.

“As we work through our overcrowding situation, we work with all parties in the criminal justice system, specifically community corrections as they have people who are sentenced to their programs. We will work with them on a daily basis in moving the offenders out to their programs and do what we can to facilitate that as quick as possible,” Hershberger said.

Hershberger said the sheriff’s department and the commissioners plan to turn away federal inmates to reduce the population and hope to send level 6 felony offenders to the Indiana Department of Corrections. Level 6 felony offenders were mandated from state prisons to local jails in 2014 in the hopes that would get services like community corrections, local officials say, but their numbers exploded in county jails.

In April, Allen County held 130 level 6 felony offenders, the same amount as Marion County which is 2.5 times larger in population than Allen County. Lake County which has a greater population than Allen County had 29 and Vanderburgh County, about half the size in population as Allen County, had 102.

When Allen County is allowed to return Level 6 felony offenders to state prison, it will occur after summer legislation, officials say, and probably not until January, and then only newly sentenced Level 6 offenders. Level 6 is the lowest felony in Indiana.

Overcrowding is likely to lead to Allen County getting a new jail, something which the Allen County Commissioners have planned, hiring a construction manager and a financing consultant.

But Leichty has said he won’t be satisfied until the current jail is at 80% occupancy which would be 592.