Marion County Sheriff considers east side state prison site for inmate overcrowding solution

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Since 1873, the former Indiana Women’s Prison at New York and Randolph Streets on Indianapolis’ east side has housed men and women, lifers and short timers and some of the state’s most notorious killers.

By July 31, the last state inmate will vacate the premises as the Indiana Department of Correction announced it's closing the Re-Entry Educational Facility at that site and will process those offenders through three other IDOC sites in central Indiana.

At 420 beds, the site is operating at less than 50% capacity. 183 offenders and 107 staff are currently on the property. The staff will be offered jobs at other IDOC facilities.

The day after the announcement that took city officials by surprise, Marion County Sheriff John Layton and his command staff toured the former prison to consider whether it would be appropriate for the housing of excess inmates currently stuffed into the overcrowded county jail system.

“We have a jail crisis,” said Layton, “but that would surely ease that pressure and probably for the least amount of money that we could get out of a situation with.”

As of Thursday morning, Layton was responsible for 2516 inmates vying for 2507 beds at his three downtown locations.

Another 147 inmates, serving their state sentences in the Marion County system, are spread throughout other county jails across Indiana.

Last year, Marion County paid Elkhart County more than $1 million to house inmates transferred from the IDOC to Layton’s care under House Bill 1006, a move by legislators to draw down inmate populations in expensive state prisons by sending those offenders back to the counties where they were convicted and sentenced.

Indiana is in the process of closing down excess facilities.

“Statehouse Enrolled Act 1006 sent about 200 inmates to our facility from DOC and we’re gonna be able to probably bring most of those folks here, if this place ends up on our agenda, we could bring them here and house them here where they would be closer to their Marion County families and attorneys as they go through the process of serving their one year,” said Layton, “and that would relieve a lot of pressure on the jail at least until the new jail would be built.”

Mayor Joe Hogsett has proposed building a $565 million Community Justice Campus on E. Prospect St. that would include a new jail, courthouse, medical and assessment and intervention facilities.

Those last facilities, at a cost of $9.5 million, would house and process offenders with homeless, substance abuse and mental illness issues who could be better served in a treatment and stabilization environment as opposed to incarceration.

Christa Sanders has lived across the street from the former women’s prison for 12 years and would rather see it turn into such an assessment center as opposed to a standard jail facility.

“It sounds like its already set up and it already has the facilities ready, the dorms, the library, the cafeteria. It sounds like somebody with the right kind of program could come in and go run with it instead of putting them in a place where they’re not getting any help.”

Sanders said if the site is turned into a treatment and transitional housing facility, neighbors might be convinced to volunteer their services.

“Neighbors and different people could go in and teach classes much like they do at the library where the homeless hang out.”

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