Allen County Jail overcrowding is a multi-faceted problem

Photo Supplied / Allen County Sheriff's Office

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WOWO): Allen County Commissioner Richard Beck told the Fort Wayne Rotary club in a speech on Monday,that he expects that the county will lose a lawsuit filed by the ACLU over the Allen County Jail.

The basis of the lawsuit is overcrowded conditions at the Jail, which, according to Allen County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Troy Hershberger, are being caused by a number of factors.

The main factor contributing to overcrowding at the Allen County Jail, is due to the Indiana Department of Corrections no longer housing Level 6 felons, which they previously did.

As of Tuesday, October 12th, 354 of the jail’s 838 beds were occupied by Level 6 felons, and another 179 beds were occupied by probation violators – both of which would have previously been housed by the Indiana Department of Corrections.

“The Jail is part of the Constitutional responsibility of the Office of the Sheriff, and was originally designated as a temporary holding facility” said Chief Hershberger, who continued “however, as the law changed over the Department of Corrections accepting low-level felons, the jails have now become long-term holding facilities”. The State of Indiana has forced the hand of several counties, including Allen County when it comes to housing inmates.

Allen County has several alternative sentencing programs, such as Drug Court, OWI Court and Restoration Court, which are designed to keep offenders out of jail. However, with an increasing number of people being sentenced to these programs, when they fail out, they end up being sentenced then to jail.

Adding to the challenge is those with substance abuse issues and mental health issues. Hershberger pointed out that all inmates in the Jail have to be carefully classified and housed accordingly, and with the age and lack of space in the current jail, this is becoming much more difficult. For example, treatment programs for substance abuse are something that authorities would like to begin, however, there is simply no space to do so.

Discussion has been ongoing with county officials about replacing the current jail. Chief Hershberger noted that the main tower of the jail is now 40 years old, and that it has been added onto twice, the last time in 2012.

A new jail is ultimately the solution that will be needed, however, the construction of a 1,500 bed facility could take five years or more and cost more than 150 million dollars.

The overcrowding problem in the Allen County Jail would be solved if the State Department of Corrections would take in the low-level felons and probation violators now in long term housing in a facility that was never designed to serve as such.

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