Judge cracks down on County’s jail reform plan

Momentum is building behind a plan to build a new, bigger jail. But not everyone agrees that's...
Momentum is building behind a plan to build a new, bigger jail. But not everyone agrees that's the best way forward.
Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 4:33 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - Allen County Commissioners on Thursday met with the federal judge who in March issued a stinging rebuke of the downtown jail and who ordered immediate actions to address overcrowding, security and other issues.

Judge Damon R. Leichty said the commissioners must come up with another plan to address the issues at the jail, giving a mid-July deadline.

The ACLU of Indiana’s Legal Director, Kenneth Falk, who represents the plaintiff, said the judge found the county’s proposal did not properly address his order. That order required a definite plan and timeline, and he said the situation must be rectified quickly. Leichty has set an August 25 hearing to review the new plan to ensure it is in compliance with his order.

The initial findings of the Court were released in a March 31 ruling on a class-action suit filed on behalf of former inmate Vincent Morris. Leichty decried overcrowding -- 863 inmates in a facility with just 741 beds -- lack of staffing, inadequate recreation time and other problems that he found to be causing “irreparable harm.”

Sheriff David Gladieux and Allen County were given 45 days to submit a plan addressing the situation. They did so at the mid-May deadline, but plaintiffs’ attorneys deemed the response inadequate and called for a more aggressive approach, with specifics to be provided at Thursday’s meeting with Leichty. Plaintiffs indicated they would seek damages if their concerns were not addressed.

Last week, counsel for the sheriff filed its response to those concerns. The filing explained the approach it was taking to revised recreational procedures, but cited safety concerns that “may restrict” opportunities for those inmates who are held in disciplinary segregation.

The sheriff's department responded to plaintiff claims in a June 10 filing in federal court.
The sheriff's department responded to plaintiff claims in a June 10 filing in federal court.(WPTA)

Regarding the current jail population, that reply claims that fewer than 775 people were held at the jail. using an average of the population from April 4 through May 6, and that the total figure was even lower by June 10: 749 in the combined Jail and Lockup population on that date, with a stand-alone Jail population at 713. The response claims that “the Jail’s population has generally dropped to a level in line with the Jail’s rated population number.”

The sheriff says that “most, but not all” inmates facing federal counts had been relocated, with the expectation that the handful that remained at the time of the filing would be out by the June 16 meeting.

Regarding staffing, the sheriff’s filing suggests continued challenges finding Confinement Officers and notes that the department “will continue to make every effort” in that regard. The plaintiffs have described current staffing as woefully inadequate.

Another party, meanwhile, hopes to help shape reforms at the jail. The “Help Not Handcuffs Coalition” seeks to address how those with mental illnesses are treated by the judicial system. Local pastors, business owners and mental health experts are among those involved in the group, which wants to act in an amicus curiae capacity -- offering information and expertise from the perspective of an outside party.

In the latest filing in the case, on Thursday, attorneys for the sheriff’s department said they had no objections to the involvement of that organization so long as “the Court determines that it is appropriate to consider the viewpoints of the Help Not Handcuffs Coalition.”

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