The number of prisons is falling, but can it be maintained as the confrontation with the federal judge takes place next week?
In time for a showdown with Federal Judge Damon R. Leichty, the Allen County Jail’s inmate count drops dramatically.
The drop was noted Friday by Allen County commissioners who plan to meet with Leichty on June 16 at 1:30 p.m. at the downtown federal courthouse.
The drop stems from the partnership between the Allen County Sheriff’s Department and the Indiana Department of Corrections, although the commissioners canceled a contract with the US Marshall’s Office that emptied the jail of federal inmates.
Unfortunately, with the cancellation goes over $1 million to help fund the prison.
But Leichty made it clear in his March 31 notice that the prison count should be 732 or less. The conditions at the jail were revealed after inmates and the ACLU sued the sheriff and commissioners in January 2020 and the judge agreed with the plaintiffs.
Leichty gave the defendants 45 days to comply with his demands that overcrowding be reduced to 732 instead of the 800 prison average, that recreation be instituted three times a week for each inmate, and that the number of people sleeping in overcrowded cells decreases.
SLEEPING INMATES ON REDUCED FLOORS
It has been difficult to reduce the number of people sleeping in “boats”, these plastic shells equipped with a mattress, because of the separation requirements of certain prison populations.
On Friday, that number of boats was the lowest in months at 34. The total population on Friday was 713 with 36 people in custody and six federal inmates. Most federal inmates were transferred to a correctional facility in northwest Ohio, so the low number reflects federal inmates transferred for hearings or simply picked up by law enforcement.
While the numbers are declining, the number of probation offenders remains steady, with the exception of Allen Superior Court probation offenders. This number was reduced to 161, lower than the typical 170 to 180.
Compare those numbers with last Friday, when the prison population was 723, including 27 in custody, nine federal inmates and 99 sleeping in boats. The number of inmates jailers had to separate was 215, a number that has not changed.
This also did not change on May 27, the previous two Fridays, but the number of inmates sleeping in boats was 117.
As the sheriff’s department tries to whittle the numbers, it’s unclear how it will get to 592 – the number the judge wanted – until convicted Level 6 felons can also be moved to jail.
LEVEL 6 FELONS CAN MOVE TO STATE PRISON IN JULY
That could happen in July when the state legislature overturns its 2014 ruling requiring Tier 6 felons to stay in county jails. That number consistently hovers around 130. But only new convicts will be sent there, according to local officials.
Sheriff David Gladieux was considering moving these criminals to the Venture Lane facility where Allen County Community Corrections houses between 170 and 180 offenders. Gladieux thought the facility could be shared, he said, but Allen County courts forced the closure of his work release program after all requests were denied between November 2019 and June 2020.
Sheriff-managed work release is still possible if a new jail is built.
At least Allen County Council Speaker Kyle Kerley said a 40-50 bed facility could be designed as part of a correctional complex that may be unavoidable when the judge has his final say.
PRISON’S ROTTED INFRASTRUCTURE COULD ACCELERATE CALLS FOR NEW PRISON
Earlier this week, WANE TV obtained photos of the decaying prison infrastructure in the oldest and largest wing built in 1981.
Gladieux said maintenance crews found the rotting pipes and other metal objects after problems emerged.
“Obviously those pipes are inside, encased in concrete,” Gladieux said earlier this week. “When we have a problem, that’s when it’s discovered. They’re steel pipes, so they rot.” The photos were taken last year, he added.
Gladieux has long advocated for a new, more efficient prison. The photos lay out the reasons why a new prison is needed in addition to the benefits of building a single-story POD system that requires fewer containment officers and prevents inmates from sending objects down the plumbing or uttering threats “by the bowl”.
The new prison construction includes steel cells with the infrastructure installed behind the cells in a walkway area, easily accessible for plumbing issues, Gladieux said.
JAIL MAINTENANCE IS APPROXIMATELY $400,000 PER YEAR
On Friday, Commissioner Nelson Peters estimated that around $2.5 million had been spent over the past six years on prison maintenance.
The annual maintenance budget for more than 40 county buildings is approximately $4.5 million, according to the county’s 2022 annual budget.
About $1.2 million was spent to replace an outdated camera surveillance system, but the prison’s new design allows more areas to be covered by cameras. Peters said replacing door locks is another $1 million item coming up.
MENTAL HEALTH IS A MAJOR PUBLIC CONCERN
A new prison would be more efficient and a complex would provide options not currently available.
There has been a lot of talk about providing better mental health and addictions programs at the prison and even building a medical wing in a new prison. Mental hospitals at Richmond and Logansport state prisons have a waiting list anyway, according to local prison officials.
While Gladieux estimated that 60% of Allen County inmates take psychoactive drugs, Commissioner Richard Beck says the number of inmates with mental health issues could be as high as 80% to 100%. Mental health has become his niche concern, something he brings up during weekly Friday legislative meetings.
But will a new jail be built and at a suggested cost of $350 million on 70 acres somewhere in Allen County?
“I have no idea,” Peters said. “The judge will make that decision.”