Commissioners consider study on justice system, possible new jail

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A study analyzing the buildings that house Allen County’s justice system has been handed over to the county commissioners. A timeline and details about what a future could look like with a new or expand jail were included in the 120 pages.

WANE 15 obtained a copy of the report by Elevatus Architecture, dated June, 2021. In the intro pages, a goal of the study was described as providing “a comprehensive picture of the interwoven nature of the justice system in Allen County to provide insight into efficiencies that should be explored in the future as facilities, property, or other modifications are considered or needed.”

While the study covers court facilities, the prosecutor, the coroner and other arms of the justice system, the future of the jail is especially noteworthy. Conversations have been happening about if the jail will remain in downtown Fort Wayne long-term or if a modern facility is worth it.

“Right now the jail is overcrowded, it’s no secret,” Deputy Chief Troy Hershberger said Monday. “It depends on day to day. We do our best in conjunction and work collaboratively with the courts and probation and the prosecutor’s office to ensure we don’t keep those that we don’t necessarily need to keep, but yes, we’re overcrowded. And we have a 40 year old existing structure that’s been added on to several times, so we’re coming to the point where we either need to expand or relocate.”

The report shows an ever increasing need for beds at the current Allen County lockup. Hershberger credited a mix of several factors for causing the current overcrowding. He also listed some of the advantages a more modern complex could bring with it, but noted it could be a complicated process to accomplish constructing such a justice campus.

“It’s going to come down to if you own land or have to purchase the land, that kind of thing, obviously with the boom and the big push to be downtown, the real estate costs have risen, so I don’t know if the answer that you seek is if we do build a new jail, would it be downtown,” Hershberger added. “A lot of people have to come to the table to decide that and the commissioners office, they control county buildings and county council controls the purse strings and the sheriff has to manage the jail, so hopefully we all can collaboratively make that decision to as to where we would go, as to what the best place would be.”

According to the study, if work would begin this year, a new jail could be operational by 2026. An expansion to the current Allen County jail could be operational in 2023.

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