The Help Not Handcuffs Coalition decided 10 a.m. today was the right time to talk about its opposition to the possible jail relocation, despite the Allen County commissioners canceling their weekly meeting.
The group planned on attending the commissioners' Friday morning meeting until it was canceled Wednesday. Instead, about 20 people gathered in front of Citizens Square with signs and held a news conference.
Commissioner Rich Beck said at the meeting May 6 that officials had not yet decided whether a new Allen County Jail needs to be constructed, but the county is actively looking for 60 to 70 acres of suitable land. A 1,500-bed jail has been estimated to cost $300 million, but Beck said the county likely needs closer to 1,100 to 1,200 beds.
Pastor Karen Staton of Destiny Life Center in Warsaw said she gets calls most weeks from inmates “who shouldn't be in jail” because of mental illnesses.
“Let's stop criminalizing mental illness and let's get them the help that they need,” Staton said. “Let's save lives, same families and save money by looking at this from another approach.”
A federal judge set Sunday as the deadline for the county to submit a plan to address overcrowding and understaffing at the Allen County Jail in the class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners. Tony Borton, a Williams-Woodland Park resident, said it is unacceptable that the commissioners canceled the meeting with the pending deadline.
“We don't know how in the short term they are going to fix the deplorable conditions and we don't know how they plan to keep the jail from being overcrowded in the future,” Borton said. “But we do know that the commissioners are taking steps to start the construction of a new jail.”
Michael Green, the commissioners' public information officer, said in an email Friday that the commissioners can't submit a plan until the court opens Monday. The commissioners don't plan on releasing anything to the public until the plan is filed, Green said.
Sean Collentine of the Alternatives for Incarceration work group said finding a solution to appropriately reduce the jail population is going to take “collaboration among police, prosecutors, judges and us.”