In a 5-2 vote Thursday, the Allen County Council approved $1.7 million in funding requests from Community Corrections, most of which will pay for a new resident services program at the former state juvenile correctional center in northwest Fort Wayne.
The approval caps a monthslong discussion among Allen County's criminal justice authorities regarding the best use for the building at 7117 Venture Lane. The money approved Thursday will fund the initiative from August through December.
The program will serve offenders who qualify to live in the community but have no place to go for various reasons. It will also provide services, under Title 35 of the Indiana Code, to address substance abuse and mental health issues. Kim Churchward, director of Community Corrections, said she anticipates services will start in August and serve up to 90 people by December.
“There are certain defendants in this community that we need, as a criminal justice system, to be helping. There is another set of defendants that we should be horribly and terribly afraid of, and those people we should incarcerate,” Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards told the council. “This is a discussion about the people that can change.”
The facility was initially meant to be the new location of the Allen County Sheriff's Department's work release program. The county spent more than $7 million renovating the building, Sheriff David Gladieux told The Journal Gazette in February. Work release was supposed to move into the building in October, but that was delayed as county officials explored whether the Community Corrections program was better suited for the site.
Despite the creation of the new program, the sheriff's work release program will continue to operate.
Gladieux, who is a member of the Community Corrections Advisory Board, voted against the program in February. At the time, he described the move as “a takeover because the judges want to have a say where inmates go and think the sheriff should not have any say.” Under Title 11 of the Indiana Code, the sheriff has the sole authority to determine whether an inmate should be placed on work release.
Gladieux in February also expressed skepticism that the state would follow through with funding. The Indiana Department of Correction previously indicated it would be willing to provide $1 million to support Community Corrections' program, dependent on approval of a revised grant application and planning documents.
On Thursday, Gladieux said the entire process has been “skewed from day one.”
“I find it irresponsible to the taxpayers of Allen County to take $7 million of their money and turn it over to a state program,” he said. “I find it absurd, quite frankly.”
Gladieux said he's not out to declare one program better than another. He also said he is willing to offer space to Community Corrections at the Venture Lane location.
“I just want to be left alone and leave my 40-something-year-old program that obviously has worked in the past (alone),” he said.
Richards said work release is “not the best solution for the people we want to help.”
“If we pull all of this, including work release, under this residential alternative placement concept, we all work together to get people into this facility. Community Corrections is run by all of us, not just the sheriff,” she said.
Richards noted that Community Corrections' board is composed of representatives from the County Council and the Allen County commissioners, Superior and Circuit court judges, officials from the public defender's office, victims assistance advocates and mental health professionals.
Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull said Allen County – which has one of the largest criminal justice systems in the state – has struggled for years to find viable alternatives to incarceration for low- and medium-risk offenders.
Requiring Community Corrections to enter into a contract with the sheriff's office for beds at the Venture Lane facility is not a solution, Gull added.
“All that does is increase the number of folks who are eligible for electronic monitoring, as they don't have adequate housing,” she said. “This proposal is an entirely new level of supervision and services for offenders to try to address recidivism.”
However, Gull said expanding a residential services program does not mean work release cannot also exist. Gull said her drug court program has a recidivism rate of about 7%.
Councilman Kyle Kerley, R-at large, said he sees the issue not as a turf war between Community Corrections and the sheriff but as an opportunity to give the criminal justice system more tools to help keep people out of jail.
“As I view this, I think I want to find a path forward personally where both can coexist,” he said. “I don't want to remove a tool from the toolbox and jump into the unknown not knowing what the results will be with Title 35.”
Councilman Tom Harris, R-2nd, said he supports the program because it is an opportunity to do something different that could result in a different outcome for the community.
“If we don't, we end up with the next request of $2 million to expand the jail and I just don't know that's going to help our community,” he said.
Councilman Ken Fries, R-at large, said he still does not know why the residential services program and work release can't both operate out of the Venture Lane facility.
There would be issues with physically dividing the building and creating separate entrances for each program, Churchward said. Additionally, Churchward said under state statute, the court cannot sentence someone to the Allen County Jail but have them under the supervision of Community Corrections. Similarly, the court cannot sentence someone to Community Corrections but have them supervised by the sheriff, she said.
Councilman Robert Armstrong, R-at large, agreed that the Venture Lane building should be shared, especially since the building was originally acquired for the work release program.
“That's what we told the taxpayers in 2018 we bought the building for,” Armstrong said. “It was designed for that and everything. I haven't looked at the building or been in it since it has been remodeled, but surely that building is designed that we can coexist two programs in one building.”
Armstrong and Fries both voted against Community Corrections' request.
Armstrong also asked the council to set a timeline to review the situation. In response, County Auditor Nick Jordan pointed out that County Council can review all funding during yearly budget discussions and could choose to discontinue funding for any program, if it so chooses.