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Department of Correction seeks prison expansions

January 27, 2015

The Indiana Department of Correction presented a budget proposal to the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday that included additional funds to expand housing units at two of the state’s prisons.

The DOC is seeking to build two housing units – more than 500 beds – at the Miami Correctional Facility in 2017 and three new housing units – 800 beds – throughout 2017 and 2018 at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. The cost for the projects is expected to be in the range of $50 million, which parallels Gov. Mike Pence’s budget request for additional prison holding facilities.

DOC Commissioner Bruce Lemmon said the additional housing is meant “to deal with the anticipated growth in the medium and maximum-security prison populations.”

In his presentation to the House committee, which writes the first draft of the state’s next two-year budget, Lemmon explained that his department anticipates large growth in the number of offenders housed by the state in 2017, 2018, and 2019 – well beyond the number it is capable of holding.

The DOC predicts the adult prison population will level out for the next two years, but exceed capacity in April 2017, unless the agency builds additional housing units. If the new units are built, the overflow is not projected to occur until July 2018.

Lemmon attributes the projected rise in inmates to a law that took effect on July 1, 2014, which increased the minimum sentencing requirement from one-half of the full sentence to three-fourths – meaning some prisoners are now spending more time in prison.

However, there is some debate about the projections used by the DOC and how accurately they predict the growth of inmates in coming years.

“I don’t know whose numbers are right yet,” Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said. “I know there is a big disagreement about the increase that we are likely to face or not face.”

Lemmon said the “disagreement” concerning the numbers comes from a misunderstanding of how prisons house minimum-security inmates and high-security inmates.

“I think the confusion is in the need for medium and maximum-security beds due to the lengthened sentencing going from 50 percent to 75 percent versus the reduction we’ll be seeing in the lower level minimum-security offender programs,” Lemmon said. “We cannot convert minimum-security beds to maximum-security beds because of the logistics.

“For the next two years our population should be somewhat stable, however it is starting to trend up by 2017, that’s when we will see the need for more medium- and maximum-security beds and that’s take the best mathematics and formulas as possible that we think are accurate,” Lemmon said.

Some Democrats on the committee, including Delaney, have reservations about spending a significant portion of the state’s budget on expanding prisons.

“I don’t want to build more prisons instead of helping people with tuition or building roads,” Delaney said. “I really don’t want to do that, and I think we need to look really hard at that proposal.”

The DOC’s budget proposal included a total increase of $49.6 million over the current biennium – which includes nearly $16 million for utility infrastructure and $14 million for custody staff increases.

 

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