By Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne
Sept. 22, 2019
A local faith-based coalition affiliated with a national community organizing network turned up the heat on Fort Wayne and Allen County officials Saturday afternoon.
The group was lobbying for an end to what members called overincarceration.
Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux, Allen County Council President Tom Harris and Capt. Kevin Hunter, head of the Fort Wayne Police Department’s vice and narcotics unit, attended the meeting hosted by the Allen County chapter of Faith in Indiana at Destiny Life Center, 3601 Warsaw St.
About 130 people attended, organizers said.
Speakers said their goal is to reduce incarceration by 30% in three years and by 50% after that. They said Allen County has a $37 million budget surplus and $15 million in a rainy day fund that could be tapped to accomplish the changes.
Officials gave lukewarm responses after the group unveiled their agenda’s specifics.
It includes a jail diversion system that would use crisis intervention teams to assess low-level, nonviolent offenders suffering from mental health or addiction problems before they get charged or otherwise involved in the criminal justice system.
More local addiction and mental health-treatment facilities are being sought, as is an end to county participation in so-called ICE detainers, which allow local officials to hold an undocumented immigrant in jail for federal immigration authorities without a warrant.
Such detentions were ruled unconstitutional by the Indiana Supreme Court in 2017, and Allen is one of four counties still participating, according to a Faith in Indiana statement.
Gladieux committed only to asking a county attorney within 30 days whether the sheriff’s office could comply with the group’s idea.
According to a handout at the meeting, the sheriff department’s current policy is not to hold anyone without a proper written detainer from an authorized governmental agency or court. If there are no other criminal charges, a detention can go on for only 48 hours.
If a person is arrested on criminal charges and has a proper ICE detainer, the hold can go on for more than 48 hours if the person being detained is still being held on the other charges.
But if that criminal case is released by a court order or a bond is posted or the case is dismissed, ICE is notified it has 48 hours to take custody of the person or he or she will be released.
“I don’t know what more I can do,” Gladieux said. “I have other constitutional responsibilities.”
However, the sheriff said he agreed with the premise that more of those incarcerated should be in mental health or addiction treatment.
“Is jail really the place to be for that? No, it’s not,” he said.
He also reiterated his complaints about a state law that forces county jails to handle people convicted of Level 6 felonies – the lowest level of felony and often resulting from drug addiction or mental health problems.
State corrections facilities previously housed such people. The state pays $35 a day for the service, but the cost is more like $55 to $58, “so that is costing us money,” Gladieux said.
After the meeting, he told The Journal Gazette the Allen County Jail now is housing up to 900 people. It was designed to hold 741, according to statements he has made in the past.
Harris was asked if he’d back a proposal to allocate $200,000 from the sheriff’s $30 million budget, which must be approved by the County Council, for a crisis intervention pilot program next year.
The sheriff’s budget already has been proposed, he said. But he said more treatment options are being discussed by county officials.
“We’re going down the same path,” he said, “maybe from different directions.”
The Rev. Karen Staton of Destiny Life, hosting the gathering, said group members planned to attend a County Council meeting Oct. 21. There also is a Faith in Action organizing meeting at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 3 at Destiny Life Center.
Group leaders said Faith in Indiana has affiliations with attendees of about a dozen Fort Wayne churches, although people of any faith, or no faith, are welcome to join.