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Allen County presents status update on new jail

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A U.S. District Court judge commended the progress Allen County law enforcement has made in addressing the overcrowding at the jail.

In a hearing Friday morning, representatives from the Allen County government and the Allen County Sheriff’s Department presented a status update on the jail.

The update wasn’t much different than previous reports. The inmate population has been on a steady decline, going from more than 700 inmates when proceedings began to 602 inmates in May. Judge Damon R. Leichty called this a “good trend.”

Leichty says staffing at the jail is also trending in the right direction, but since the new jail will be a larger facility, he’d like to see Sheriff Troy Hershberger’s office do more to increase staff.

He says staff going from 134 corrections officers to 146 is “commendable,” but at the next hearing, he expects to hear a plan for wider staff expansion as well as more details from the county on how it will fund building the new jail.

In the presentation, the Sheriff’s Department said it is offering a higher starting salary for corrections officers than any county in the State of Indiana. The department has hired more than 20 corrections officers this year and is offering a retention bonus to its current officers. It said all that is helping to reduce the turnover.

The Allen County government representative could not give specifics on funding the new jail. He said it’s up in the air as the County Council, at the request of the County Commissioners, is considering a .2 percent tax rate increase to fund the jail construction. He also did not know when the County would have a construction management contractor or CMC signed and ready to go.

ACLU of Indiana attorney Ken Falk told the court more focus needs to go to the short term solution, which would be staffing at the jail. He said since this jail is going to be in use for another four years, it needs to be up to standards now. Falk recommended the next hearing be in September to give the county a chance to look at the impact of the summer.

A representative for Help Not Handcuffs, a coalition of community members working for change in the legal system, said the county has not been transparent enough in the process and needs to have more meetings with the public about a possible tax rate increase. She also said the county is not paying enough attention to the threat to wetlands near the new jail site. However, the jail is being built on land zoned for major industrial facilities, like plants and factories. The new jail would have a smaller footprint on the land and would not dump industrial waste on the wetlands.

Judge Leichty wants the county to return to the next hearing with more solid information on funding the new jail and getting a CMC. He also wants the Sheriff’s Department to come back with a plan to further increase staff at the county jail.

The next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 29.

Tony Sandleben joined the WBOI News team in September of 2022.