Commissioner: Looking for new prison locations after dropping 8 possible locations

ALLEN COUNTY, Indiana (WANE) – Allen County’s commissioners are back to square one.

Commissioner Rich Beck told WANE 15 on Friday that the 8 possible sites for a new county jail had all “failed” and the county was looking for a new site.

“We’re looking for locations because we’ve gone through our 8 and they’ve all failed at some point,” Beck told WANE 15.

“We’re as frustrated as we can be, but we can’t stand around and be frustrated, we have to start looking for seats,” he added.

Two weeks ago, at their regular weekly meeting, the commissioners said the district had an eighth site for the new prison or prison complex, and they aim to have a purchase agreement by the end of December when they meet again with a federal judge.

The commissioners never identified the possible locations, other than the original sheriff’s training ground at Adams Center and East Pauling streets and a property at 2911 Meyer Road.

Commissioner Therese Brown said on Friday the Adams Center location remains a “last resort”.

The district has a little over two months before it must present a federal judge with a purchase order for a new prison site.

Changemakers co-founder Daylana Saunders stands by what she said last Friday that she believes the commissioners have already decided on the location at the Adams Center and Paulding.

“Changemakers constantly warns the community that there are no eight locations. A decision has been made about the Paulding and Adams Center,” Saunders said. “The commissioners are dragging it out until the December decision, but they landed on the decision and location for Southeast Fort Wayne, Southeast Allen County. We must not be fooled into thinking they have changed their minds.”

The order came after federal judge Damon R. Leichty sided with Indiana ACLU and Allen County inmates in a federal lawsuit filed in January 2020, alleging inhuman treatment at the Allen County jail for overcrowding and understaffing. The lawsuit was filed against the commissioners responsible for maintaining the prison and the Allen County Sheriff, who operates the prison. The judge delivered his verdict on March 31, throwing the commissioners into a race to find a site to replace the aging, semi-dilapidated downtown jail, which sits on a three-acre lot.

The commissioners have determined they need between 60 and 70 acres for a prison and possibly a prison complex that would include a separate wing for a psychiatric facility and a 40-50 inmate area for a county layoff program, separate from the Allen County community Corrections made by the Allen County court system.

But the site also has to match environmental and soil conditions, and that’s more difficult, said Commissioner Richard Beck, speaking at Friday’s session. Now the only viable location seems to be the Allen County Sheriff’s Training Facility at Adams Center and Paulding Streets.

But residents in the city’s southeast are fighting that decision, arguing that the facility is across the street from Prince Chapman Academy, an elementary school where kids are already hearing gunshots when sheriff’s officers and the Fort Wayne Police Department are training.

The commissioners also said they would be speaking to state officials about a facility for the severely mentally ill currently incarcerated, sometimes estimated at 20%. Richard Beck said the commissioners heard there could be a regional mental health facility in Allen County, but he wasn’t sure which counties would be included.

It would provide some relief to the overcrowded prison, which now has 694 inmates but housed up to 916 before COVID, Sheriff David Gladieux said last week. That would mean about 140 inmates currently in prison require special attention that the prison cannot provide. Commissioner: Looking for new prison locations after dropping 8 possible locations

Dais Johnston

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