Religious leaders want ‘jail diversion’ program in Allen County

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Overcrowding in the Allen County Jail has been an issue for quite some time. Now, a group of religious leaders are working to come up with a solution.

A group called “Faith in Indiana” want to create a jail diversion program. The idea is to give people with mental illnesses and drug addictions a second chance.

“People can get treatment instead of incarceration,” said Pastor Karen Staton of Destiny Life Center Church.

Jail diversion programs are growing in popularity in communities across the United States. Instead of sending someone with mental illness or substance abuse problems to jail, they would be redirected to treatment facilities.

James McKee said it is a program he could have benefited from when he was a teenager. He had his first run-in with the law at 18-years-old.

“If I would have known the things I was going through with mental illness… schizophrenia, bipolar, social anxiety… if I would have had help then, maybe I wouldn’t have did a lot of prison time,” he said.

Instead he found himself in and out of jail and prison. McKee said it took years for him to get on the right path. That is why he is advocating for a program that he believes would help people like himself.

“Jail is not the right answer for them,” said McKee. “Prison is not the right answer for them. They need help.”

Staton held a town hall at Destiny Life Center Church last month to discuss the possibility of a jail diversion program. She said several community leaders were in attendance.

Staton hopes the discussion sparked more conversation around the idea of a jail diversion program and that will eventually lead to action.

“We can make this happen and we could do so much better in Fort Wayne,” said Staton. “And that’s what we want to do. We want to do better.”

The group is working to develop a strategy for a pilot program then they would like to seek funding from the county. An official plan has not been presented.

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