FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Allen County Commissioners have been doing everything they can to reduce the prison population and comply with a federal judge’s order that the prison provide more recreation, more staff and a safer environment .
It is now up to the justice system to help divert more inmates to reduce the population to 732, and eventually to 80% capacity or 592, they say.
Magic numbers are at the heart of this chess game where the fate of inmates depends on their state and county masters.
At the weekly legislative meeting, Commissioner Richard Beck said that by law the obligation of commissioners is to establish and maintain a prison. Allen County Sheriffs are obligated to operate the jail, including staff.
“We have no real role”
“We have no real role in the arrests, incarceration, defense, anything to do with this individual. We have no role in that,” Beck said.
Therese Brown, the other commissioner present at the meeting, said commissioners “will continue a dialogue with local justice and justice partners about how individuals are charged, whether they are high level criminals 6 (and) above or torts,” adding that Federal Judge Damon R. Leichty is the one who “holds the cards in this equation.”
Commissioners have revoked a million-dollar contract with U.S. Marshals to house federal inmates and hope to begin sending Tier 6 felons to jail, a reversal of 2014 state law that required felons to level 6 to be held in county jails, in the hope that they’d be better served in community corrections. State legislation has swelled prison populations across the state.
Commissioners also renewed a contract with Lagrange County to ship inmates to the county jail at a cost of $60 a day to house them. This cost does not cover transport and personnel costs.
Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux and Deputy Chief Troy Hershberger both said that with the stipulation of the contract, the only inmates who can be moved are prison administrators, inmates who work in the kitchen, the laundry and other areas of the prison.
On March 31, Leichty sided with the ACLU and the inmates, determining that the prison was unsafe and the conditions were inhumane. Leichty gave the sheriff and commissioners 45 days to reduce the prison population, provide recreation at least three times a week, report physical assaults between inmates and inmates and staff, and add enough staff to ensure security, between other requests. Leichty also asked for plans to build a new prison, or an addition.
The commissioners and the sheriff are scheduled to meet with Leichty here in Fort Wayne on June 16 to discuss progress in meeting his demands.
Leichty sued the two entities that are normally prosecuted in these cases because prosecutors and the judiciary enjoy state immunity, local officials said. But prosecutors and judges, as well as police, are the ones who make arrests, charge individuals and convict them, Beck and others said.
WANE-TV contacted the judiciary and the Allen County District Attorney to ask if any policy changes were discussed that would help reduce the prison population.
Allen County Circuit Judge Wendy Davis said in an email that Allen County judges “will continue to convict defendants in accordance with Indiana law.”
She highlighted other sentencing options available in the county: Allen County Community Corrections Residential Services and Home Detention, Veterans Court, Restoration/Mental Health Court, OVWI, Drug and Veterans Affairs Court, Rehabilitation Court and Family Rehabilitation Courts.
Davis, in a mass email that included Allen County Judges Kim Churchward, Director of Community Corrections, and Allen County Chief of Probation Eric Zimmerman, said that if the alternative sentence did not exist “the number of inmates in the prison would be closer to 1,000 more than 800.
Allen County Attorney’s Response
The Allen County District Attorney’s Office, through its spokesperson, Robyn Niedzwiecki, said it is assessing this situation and working closely with commissioners and the sheriff to “ensure compliance with the orders of the federal court and continue to protect the citizens of this community.”
Gladieux said a few weeks ago he had reduced the number to 740, eight more than what Leichty said was the maximum number he would accept.
He was able to ship 14 federal inmates and 28 county offenders to the Indiana Department of Corrections, double the number the IDOC normally takes, Gladieux said.
But the numbers quickly climbed.
“Everyone must do something”
“Everyone has to do something. The courts do nothing and they are the ones who can do the most,” Gladieux said. He suggests suspending the reintegration court that allows state inmates to return to services earlier community corrections, as these offenders often end up in jail for violations.
Gladieux would rather see the many already convicted Level 6 felons be housed at Communication Corrections’ Venture Lane facility where he originally planned to place them to reduce the prison population. However, it was forced to shut down its work release program after the Allen County court system denied nearly 80 applications between November 2019 and May 2020, effectively ending the program.
The Allen County Jail had 771 inmates as of Friday, down from a typical 800 inmates, but probation violators and felons sentenced to Level 6 were about the same number as they usually are. There were 33 federal inmates.
There were nine circuit court probation offenders, 18 community corrections offenders, 164 probation offenders and 123 felony Level 6 offenders.
Allen County leads the state in detaining Tier 6 felons
According to data from the IDOC website, Allen County leads the state in felony tier 6 offenders, the very population that is supposed to be in some sort of community corrections program. , in accordance with state law.
Beck says when he meets with the federal judge in June, he will tell him that the commissioners “have done everything we can do within our authority to reduce this population in the prison.
“Once again, our hands are tied. By statue, we are limited in what we can do. We hope to impress on the judge that we have done everything we can to reduce this number. »