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Indiana State Prison

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Title: Indiana State Prison  
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Subject: Plainfield Correctional Facility, New Castle Correctional Facility, Capital punishment in the United States, John Dillinger, September 26
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Indiana State Prison

Illustration of Indiana State Prison, 1871

The Indiana State Prison is a maximum security Indiana Department of Corrections prison for adult males; however, minimum security housing also exists on the confines.[1] It is located in Michigan City, Indiana, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Chicago.[2] The average daily inmate population in November 2006 was 2,200,[3] 2,165 in 2011.[4] The Indiana State Prison was established in 1860.[1] It was the second state prison in Indiana.[5] One of the most famous prisoners to be in the Michigan City prison was bank robber John Dillinger, who was released on parole in 1933.[6]

The prison appeared in the ITV documentary Inside Death Row with Trevor McDonald.


The history of the Indiana State Prison dates back to 1859 when the state legislature granted $50,000 for a new state prison.[3] It was named "State Prison West"; as opposed to "State Prison East" which was the first state prison located in Jeffersonville, Indiana (and later moved to nearby Clarksville).[7] The prison space at Jeffersonville became too scarce, calling for a new prison to be built in Michigan City.[8] Later, State Prison South became the Indiana Reformatory and State Prison North became known as Indiana State Prison.[3]

In 1860, 100 acres (0.40 km2) in Michigan City were purchased for $4,500. The first warden, Charles Seely, was the superintendent in charge of construction and was the general handyman.[3] The first building was the Temporary Prison Building which was 200 feet (61 m) long and made of red brick. A year after Michigan City Prison opened, prison labor outside of the institution started; inmates were employed at a cooperage firm making barrels, receiving 38 cents a day.[3] The first prison school was started in 1861 where prisoners would learn from the chaplain five days a week. Later the prison started charging 25 cents per visitor to boost prison revenue.[3]

At the turn of the century, the prison was increased to twice its size. By 1930 prisoners were placed in two cell houses that contained 230 and 340 cells respectively, and three dormitories, which were considered among the best in the country.[9] During that same time period, 900 acres (3.6 km2) of farmland were in use by the prison on land leased by the state.[9] A hospital was built in 1943 that was almost 1,000 square feet (93 m2). In the late 1950s, arguably one of the finest state recreational facilities was opened at the prison.[3]

From 1960 to 1990, only minor renovations were implemented at the State Prison. In 1992, a new type of food door with locking capability for each cell was designed.[3] A year later, the first hot meal was served in the dining room, and in that same year, the inmates received three meals a day for the first time.[3] Soon thereafter, a new riot system was put into effect in Dormitories E and F.[3]

Michigan City is known for having housed two famous inmates during its tenure. John Dillinger spent time in Michigan City from 1929 until he was paroled in 1933. A few months after Dillinger made parole, on September 26, ten inmates, including Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, Russell Clark, and Ed Shouse, escaped thanks to the help of three pistols Dillinger had smuggled into the prison.[3]

The other especially famous inmate was D.C. Stephenson. In 1922 Stephenson became one of the most powerful Grand Dragons of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1925 he raped a woman named Madge Oberholtzer. She died a month later from either poison or bite marks from being raped. That same year he was convicted of second degree murder and was sent to the Indiana State Prison for 31 years.[10]

Michigan City had a cemetery for prisoners when the prison first opened in 1860; however, that cemetery no longer exists. The new prison cemetery in Michigan City has around 350 prisoners buried on the premises.[11] Sam Thomas was the first offender buried in the new cemetery on June 10, 1927.[11]

Before 1913 all executions in Indiana were done by hanging. On February 20, 1914, the first electrocution occurred. From 1913 to 1994 executions were performed via electric chair. Lethal Injection has been used in Indiana from 1995 up to the present.[12] Currently all state executions must be carried out in the Indiana State Prison.


  1. ^ a b Indiana State Prison
  2. ^ MapQuest: Maps, Directions, Gas Prices & Business Directory
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Indiana State Prison History." Available on request from Indiana State Prison, Michigan City, Indiana.
  4. ^ Indiana State Prison
  5. ^ IHB: 404
  6. ^ John Dillinger's grave
  7. ^ Bongen, Paula. "Indiana State Prison Timeline." Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Society.
  8. ^ Wilson, Helen. The Treatment of the misdemeanant in Indiana, 1816-1936. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1938.
  9. ^ a b Garrett, Paul W., and Austin H. MacCormick. Handbook of American Prisons. New York: National Society of Penal Information, 1929.
  10. ^ Indiana History, Chapter Seven
  11. ^ a b Indiana State Prison Cemetery
  12. ^ Death Row

Further reading

  • An Illustrated History and Description of State Prison Life by One who Has Been There. O.A. Browning & Company. 1871. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 

External links

  • Profile of Indiana State Prison at Indiana's official website

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