Allen County worried about new law’s impact

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) – A new law revamping the state’s criminal code has sparked concerns in northeastern Indiana’s Allen County that it will saddle the county with new costs and fill up the local jail.

The law taking effect July 1 is aimed at sending more low-level, nonviolent offenders to local community corrections programs and jails instead of to state prisons.

Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries said the law concerns him because the county’s jail is at capacity most of the time. He noted that the state’s mandate has no mechanism to cover the additional costs that counties will incur in making accommodations to house more inmates or expand alternative programs.

“The state expects to save $11 million, but it simply throws the expenses back onto the counties,” Fries told The Journal Gazette on Friday. He said it costs the state $35 a day to house an inmate, compared with the county’s daily cost of $43.

In 2012, Allen County sent 564 low-level felons to the state Department of Correction. But County Council President Darren Vogt said those inmates would come back to the county under the law.

“This is a daunting and scary when you consider the number of people sent to the Department of Corrections that will now come back to the county,” Vogt said.

County officials said Thursday during a lengthy discussion that they’ll consider increasing jail space and expanding work release, probation and home detention in response to the law.

Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull said the county, which is home to the state’s second-largest city, Fort Wayne, already relies heavily on community corrections, work release, drug courts and other approaches.

Although he said those programs need to be expanded, Gull said the county doesn’t “just send people to the Department of Corrections willy-nilly.”

Fries said the county jail has two unfinished wings that could house 76 inmates, but to finish those wings and hire the necessary staff would cost a minimum of $5 million and $2 million a year after that to maintain. He said another floor could be added to the six-level jail, but the cost of that would be even greater.

The jail has been expanded three times — in 1994, 1998 and 2002.

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