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Posted on: December 5, 2023

Prison tour opens eyes

IMG_9915Tuesday, December 5, 2023

AUBURN, Ind. – A recent tour of the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, the state’s oldest prison, was another eye-opening experience for Auburn Mayor Mike Ley.

The visit was yet another example of the mayor “meeting people where they are at.”

“There is a lot more to this world than our little corner of it,” Ley said.

The Indiana State Prison, located in Michigan City, was built in 1860 and encompasses 100 acres. The prison, which houses approximately 2,346 adult male inmates, is a Level 4 maximum and medium security prison.

The 100 acre facility features 51 buildings, which include 13 offender-housing units, steam plant, garage, warehouse, industries building and five staff housing units.

Since taking office in 2020 Mayor Ley has visited the Pendleton Correctional Facility and Juvenile Facility (May 2021) and the Lakeland Correctional Facility, in Coldwater, Michigan (March 2023).

Ley has served as a representative on the DeKalb County Addiction Treatment Court since its inception, mentoring those individuals taking part in the program. The program’s mission is to help those with alcohol and drug related offenses stay out of the prisons and penitentiaries.

As a representative of the DeKalb County Drug Court, Ley has taken an interest in making a difference in DeKalb County residents’ lives since taking office.

He said the visit to the Indiana State Prison was a more eye opening experience than Pendleton and Lakeland Correctional Facility.

Attending the tour with Ley was his wife, Sara, Auburn City Attorney Erik Weber and The Honorable Carolyn S. Foley, magistrate of the Allen County Superior Court. Foley and her husband, Rick, are lifelong residents of DeKalb County.

“Michigan City is a very serious and ominous place,” Weber said. “At Michigan City there are many individuals serving life sentences and there are many individuals who will never leave the inside of the campus.

“Being on the inside, in the cellhouses, and on the campus of Michigan City one of our oldest prisons and the home of death row, was remarkable.”

Foley who has worked within the state’s criminal justice system for approximately 30 years, have toured several of the state’s correctional facilities.

“I appreciated the opportunity to visit the Indiana State Prison with Mayor Ley,” Foley said. “As with most Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) facilities, I was impressed by the dedication of the staff to their mission and their ability to function in very difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances.

“While it is clear that many of the inmates at the Indiana State Prison have committed very serious, violent offenses, the staff at the IDOC continue to attempt to provide services to the offenders in their care.”

That staff dedication and the reality of working in a maximum security prison was realized when the group walked into a conference room on the grounds. On the wall of the conference room is a memorial to five IDOC employees from the Indiana State Prison who have lost their lives while on duty.

The most recent death occurred in April 2023, when a maintenance foreman working in the steel shop was assaulted with a steel pipe. Mike Keel, a 29-year prison employee succumbed to his injuries.

It was that reality that kept the group on their toes as they were escorted through the prison.

Ley said one thing that was different about this visit was they were allowed to talk with inmates if they wished.

Mayor Ley took that opportunity to talk with an inmate who had the door to his six-foot by nine-foot cell open. Standing at the edge of the cell Ley carried on a conversation with the inmate facing an additional 55 years at the Indiana State Prison.

Inmates are allowed two hours a day of recreation time, which allows them to leave their cell giving them the opportunity to take part in recreation in the yard.

Inmates at the Level 2 correctional facility, which is also on sight, maintain the grounds and buildings along with assist with food preparation for the staff dining room. The Prison Enterprise Network (PEN) allows offender workers to be enrolled with the United State Department of Labor in one of many apprenticeship programs. They have the opportunity to learn a trade so that when released, they will have a good chance of obtaining gainful employment.

The PEN’s primary customers are the Department of Corrections, Department of Natural Resources and Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Inmates also operate a make-shift fire station housed on the property. Those inmates who take part in the fire department respond to all fire related emergencies within the walls of the structure.

Ley believes that all elected officials and those working in the state’s judicial system should take the opportunity to tour one of the IDOC’s facilities.

He believes the impact these visits would have could potentially change some thinking in the way addictions and other criminal activity is dealt with.

“We need to think about putting more effort into programs locally to assist with rehabilitation,” Ley said.

Weber said, “as a practitioner who works in the courtrooms with both those charged with serous crimes and those who are suffering from addiction, it is important to balance the handling of those who are in need of treatment versus those who are in need of rehabilitation.”

“it is critical that we do all we can to keep our community safe, to combat recidivism and to take seriously with care and forethought every single case that comes before us in the criminal justice system,” Weber said. “Too many lives have been impacted by poor choices. Indiana State Prison is a sobering reminder of that fact.”

After visiting Lakeland Correctional Facility in March and this most recent visit to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City Ley said he is convinced we have to do everything we can to keep people out of our prisons and penitentiaries.

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