The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 03, 2021 1:00 am

Sheriff requests more staff at jail

24 sought as safety risks cited; county OKs 10

DEVAN FILCHAK and JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

The Allen County Sheriff's Department says it needs more correctional officers to alleviate the need for overtime at the overcrowded county jail and avoid safety risks to staff.

Chief Deputy Troy Hershberger said the department would like to add 30 positions – 24 correctional officers and six bailiffs to relieve the courts so six officers can return to the jail. The added staffing would be, Hershberger said, “doing what's right for employees and looking out for their best interests in that building.”

What he didn't say during a Sept. 16 public county budget hearing is that the current low staffing is unsafe for correctional officers, some of whom have been jumped by inmates.

Sometimes only one correctional officer monitors a block. If that officer has to leave, there's no correctional officers in the block, which houses about 145 inmates.

In the last 15 minutes of the budget hearing, County Council members said the $2.6 million request from the sheriff's department was not possible. Instead, the council approved $1.6 million for the department – $1 million toward the roughly $1.1 million in contractual obligations and $600,000 for 10 additional correctional officers.

Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux said he is “very disappointed” the County Council unanimously approved just 10 of the 30 positions requested.

“I've sent numerous officers to the hospital because the jail is not properly manned and never has been,” he said.

The department budget allows 135 correctional officers to staff the Allen County Jail, which typically houses 850 inmates. A 2013 study of the jail said the optimum level of correctional officers would be 172.

The jail can now have 145 officers in January with the approved budget allocation, but Lt. A.J. Pape of the department's Office of Professional Standards said that still would leave the jail 27 officers short.

A block should have two confinement officers at all times, but current staffing levels mean a block might only be supervised by one officer. So if, for example, that lone officer has to take an inmate to court or a medical appointment, Pape said a block could be unsupervised.

Inmates on the newer side of the jail, which houses about 320 inmates, can press a call button that goes to central command if they need assistance. Jail Commander David Butler said the call might go unanswered if staffing is too low.

“On the old side, they kick the door until somebody hears,” Butler said.

The older side of the jail holds 530 inmates. 

Former Sheriff and Councilman Ken Fries said it will take “months and months and months” for the department to hire 10 correctional officers, let alone 24. Once officers are hired, the sheriff can return to the council to ask for more staff, Councilman Tom Harris said.

“We can pretend we're giving them 12 but they are going to have a hard time filling 10,” Harris said.

Gladieux said understaffing is an ongoing issue and might be one reason the department has a hard time recruiting.

“Every sheriff has gone to council and asked for more people,” he said. “People decide they don't want to work there because it's a dangerous place.”

Councilman Joel Benz shared concerns before the vote, including that he is concerned the jail will be required to increase staff in the future, based on a pending lawsuit against the jail.

“I think we should have, in my estimation, instead of putting so many positions in Community Corrections, it would have been better served here,” Benz said.

Vincent Morris filed a lawsuit in January 2020 against the jail on behalf of himself and other inmates that alleges the jail is overcrowded and doesn't provide enough medical attention, recreation and oversight by confinement officers. The case is still pending in federal court. 

Allen County Community Corrections asked for 17 new positions, which would alleviate concerns surrounding overtime and work-life balance, for the residential services center off of Cook Road. The center currently has 32 employees and in September housed 157 offenders, just over a year after opening.

Community Corrections uses evidence-based practices to assist offenders to become productive members of society. Instead of sentencing offenders to jail, judges can send offenders to the residential services center or to one of the problem -solving courts. 

Councilman Chris Spurr suggested 13 positions – 12 residential service officers and one supervisor – for Community Corrections because it would not seem fair to award Community Corrections all 17 positions requested and “take away from the sheriff.”

Kim Churchward, executive director of Community Corrections, said in an email that the additional 13 positions “will allow us to move to full capacity and move staff off of the crushing 12-hour shifts they have been working since opening.”

Benz was the sole vote against the Community Corrections allocation. Councilwoman Sheila Curry-Campbell asked how Community Corrections could get the four additional positions it requested.

The councilwoman, the council's sole Democrat, said morale at the jail and Community Corrections is “at an all-time low.”

“They'd have to come back at another meeting, multiple meetings, I guess, until it was approved or they gave up,” Auditor Nick Jordan replied.

Gladieux said he plans to go back to County Council with a request for more confinement officers.

“They're going to force my hand where I'm going to have to shut down blocks and lower the numbers,” Gladieux said, “because I don't have the manpower to operate that jail safely.”


County budget appeals

Several departments requested amounts above their budgets approved by the Allen County Council. Listed below are the amounts of how much was granted.

Three departments – the surveyor's office, building maintenance department, and Consolidated Communications Partnership – were not granted any amount of their appeals because the council found those funds in other areas of the departments' budgets.

Sheriff's Department: $1.6 million out of more than $2.8 million; Coroner: $73,296 requested and approved; Voter registration: $9,750 requested and approved; Purdue Extension: No funds of requested $4,338 were approved; Commissioners: No funds of the requested $380,192 were approved; IT: $1,239,175 requested and approved; County: $649,000 approved of $600,000 requested (for increased county employee raises); County Council: $10,930 requested and approved; Youth Services Center: $730,107 requested and approved; Department of Emergency Management: $1,000 approved of $1,210 requested; Community Corrections: 341,000 approved of $711,335 requested.

Several departments reported reversions ranging from $296 to $103,517, including the offices of the clerk, auditor, treasurer, assessor, Wayne Township assessor, building department, and the department of planning services.

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