(Westville, IN) - A new state of the art prison in Westville costing $1.2 billion would be slightly smaller in size but contain more beds from efficiencies in the design.
Construction of the proposed new facility on the same grounds of the existing Westville Correctional Facility hinges on the state legislature and governor approving the funding.
The money is contained in the next two-year state budget to be considered by the house and senate before this year’s legislative session is over at the end of April.
The plans were laid out Monday night by Indiana Department of Correction officials during a public meeting hosted by the South County Community Coalition at Westville School.
SCCC President Al Stevens of Hanna said the meeting was called to obtain answers to many unknowns in the community about the project, which could begin as soon as this summer.
Stevens said DOC officials were thorough in going over the plans and responding to questions from the over 100 people in attendance. He was especially glad to learn the intent is to use local labor and materials in the construction as much as possible.
“It was just good to shed a little light on what they’re actually going to do,” he said.
The SCCC was formed several years ago to provide more of a voice for southern La Porte County in response to feeling overlooked at times by their elected officials.
About 1,500 construction jobs are projected to be created during the three or four years it would take to build the facility.
According to DOC officials, the new prison would have 4,200 beds or about 500 more than the existing facility. The new prison would also have 18,000 square feet of classroom space and over 200 beds for mental health and addiction recovery.
The current workforce of about 900 would remain about the same, but there would be fewer correctional officers and more employees involved in programming designed to keep offenders after their release from returning to incarceration.
Annie Goeller, Chief Communications Officers for the IDOC, said the facility would also be more secure for staff members, the community and offenders because it’s designed as a prison. The current facility designed as a mental health hospital when it opened in 1951 was converted into a prison in 1979.
“This, by far, is not one of our oldest facilities but it is one of our most difficult facilities to manage because of the lay out,” she said.
Kevin Orme, Director of the IDOC’s Construction Services Division, said the current prison has shortcomings in security because of its original design and replacement parts to repairs breaks in some of the infrastructure are becoming more difficult to find. Orme said some high voltage parts actually have to be made by staff members to restore power during outages.
“This facility is truly, truly at the end of its useful life as a correctional facility,” he said.
Other features of the new prison would include solar panels to save on the cost of electricity.
Goeller also addressed considerable speculation that Indiana State Prison in Michigan City might be relocated to the grounds as part of the project.
“At this point, that is not something that is on the table,” she said.
However, she said the DOC is always looking for ways to operate more cost effectively statewide and will continue to do so.
The state prison has about 2,200 inmates.
“That’s not a decision that we would be making now for sure and it’s a decision that would have a lot of factors that would go into it. I can say right now that’s not something that we’re doing but we’ll continue to look for efficiencies,” she said.
There’s a push in Michigan City to relocate the prison built in 1860 to help redevelop the long economically struggling west side near the NIPSCO generating station, which is slated to close sometime during 2026 to 2028.
More boat slips, upscale housing and developments related to tourism could be part of the vision for the lakefront property just east of the Indiana Dunes National Park.
Michigan City Common Council member Angie Nelson Deuitch said the site of a prison is not pleasing to visitors or compatible with what that area of the city is positioned to become.
“It’s just a horrible location for a prison. People are coming here for all of these things and they have to pass by the prison,” she said.