The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, May 17, 2022 1:00 am

County plans building jail by '26

Submits report to federal judge to allow for 1,500 beds

DEVAN FILCHAK | The Journal Gazette

A new Allen County Jail facility is expected to be built by June 2026, according to the plan county officials submitted Monday to a federal court.

U.S. District Court Judge Damon R. Leichty said March 31 in response to a class-action lawsuit that the Allen County Jail is chronically overcrowded and understaffed, leading to numerous problems that threaten and cause inmates' injuries.

The Allen County Commissioners met the judge's deadline of 45 days to come up with a plan to address the issues when it submitted its report Monday.

The commissioners have decided that new construction is required to address the jail's deficiencies, but the officials haven't decided the scope of construction yet, the report said. The options the commissioners are considering are constructing an entirely new jail facility or building new construction for certain classifications of inmates while maintaining some of the existing jail.

Both options would allow for 1,500 jail beds, which is what projections for expected population growth show will be needed.

“However, county trends and community concerns reveal a need to address mental health and chemical dependency/addiction issues facing the community and incarcerated individuals, which may alter both the number of jail beds necessary and the scope of any new construction,” the report said.

The commissioners said a “more realistic number” of jail beds might be between 1,100 and 1,200, but the total number of available beds for housing will remain at 1,500.

The report included a timeline for when some project benchmarks are expected be completed: the schematic design by September, design development by June 2023, construction documents by August 2023, bidding of and funding of construction by December 2023, and completion of construction by June 2026.

The commissioners are in search of 60-70 suitable acres of land for the project and possible expansions in the future, the plan said. They hope to enter into a real estate agreement within 90 days followed by a 180-day due diligence period to confirm the property is appropriate and suitable for the project.

County officials will do a survey to determine proper staffing levels for the new facility and the existing facility if it is still being used. The survey should be filed with the court, and the commissioners will have 60 days to file a report outlining all the steps they plan to take to ensure staffing levels are met.

The commissioners did not submit an alternative plan to address the deficiencies the judge identified because the long-term solution will involve construction, the report said.

It also included short-term steps county officials will take to address the jail's problems, including the termination of an agreement with the United State Marshals Service to house federal inmates.

The commissioners have also entered into an agreement to house up to 50 Allen County inmates in the LaGrange County Jail, and have reached out to Noble County for a similar arrangement.

The commissioners have asked the sheriff to submit jail population reports to them and to judges with jurisdiction in Allen County. When the population exceeds the 731-inmate limit, the sheriff or his designee will have 24 hours to inform the judges, prosecutor, president of the commissioners, president of the Allen County Council and class legal counsel.

The sheriff will then ask judges to consider releasing a sufficient number of inmates to reduce the population to 731 or less. It is solely up to the judge's discretion.

The county has been ordered to provide each inmate with at least three hours each week of recreation outside of the cell blocks, and the sheriff's department is ready to comply.

The sheriff's department is in the process of clearing out a space that was originally an indoor recreation area and was more recently used as a inmate property overflow and storage. It should be available by June, the report said.

The sheriff's department has approval and funding for 144 employees at the jail. The department currently has 123 of the positions filled and has implemented a recruiting plan.

Having 123 employees at the jail is sufficient to provide appropriate supervision and recreational opportunities, the sheriff said.

The report said the additional 21 positions will be used to “provide enhanced monitoring and supervision of inmates by staffing each block continuously.”

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