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Federal suit alleges inmate overcrowding at Allen County Jail

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - A class action lawsuit alleges Allen County inmates are being denied safety and basic life necessities due to jail overcrowding.

In the suit, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, that is representing current and future prisoners in the facility, lays out that "The Allen County Jail is chronically and seriously overcrowded."

Lawsuit alleges Allen County Jail inmates are being denied their Constitutional rights due to jail overcrowding.

What kinds of things are the lawyers for the ACLU seeking?

"Changes in practices on who is sent to the jail, to building a new facility, or anything in between," said Kenneth Falk, the legal director for the ACLU of Indiana.

Current jail inmate Vincent Morris, just sentenced on armed robbery charges, is the lead plaintiff listed.

The suit states that the jail has 741 operational beds, but often houses more than 800 prisoners.

It is alleged some cell blocks have prisoners who are sleeping on mattresses on plastic platforms, called "boats", and that Vincent Morris was forced to sleep on a "boat" for six months.

Suit alleges inmate population at Allen County Jail is routinely beyond capacity.

It goes on to say, recreation is provided infrequently or not at all in some cell areas, that prisoners are not adequately monitored and that the overcrowding causes a great deal of tension leading to fights.

"When you have an overcrowded jail, all sorts of things become impossible, it becomes impossible to keep the prisoners safe from each other, it becomes impossible to keep the prisoners safe from staff," Falk said.

Former Allen County Sheriff and current county councilman Ken Fries says the jail population has been impacted by a law change enacted in 2015 by state legislators that ordered certain low-level drug and property crime felons serve their time in county jails rather than be shipped off to the Department of Correction.

He is nervous that Allen County and other counties might be forced to turn more inmates loose to deal with escalating prisoner counts.

"When you start dumping felons out on the street, maybe that's not the best thing for the public, So, we built jails for a reason," Fries said.

No hearing dates have yet been established with regard to the filing of the overcrowding lawsuit.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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