Indiana Women's Prison
The Indiana Women’s Prison was established in 1873 as the first adult female correctional facility in the country. The original location of the prison was one mile (1.6 km) east of downtown Indianapolis. It has since moved to 2596 Girls School Road, former location of the Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility. As of 2005[update] it had an average daily population of 420 inmates, most of whom are members of special-needs populations, such as geriatric, mentally ill, pregnant, and juveniles sentenced as adults. Security levels range from medium to maximum. The prison holds Indiana’s only death row for women; however, no Indiana woman is currently sentenced to death.
Established in 1873, the Indiana Women’s Prison was not only the United States’ first separate institution for female prisoners, but was also the first maximum-security female correctional facility in the nation. Formerly, female felons had been detained at the Indiana State Prison, located first in Jeffersonville and later in Clarksville. When Quaker prison reformers Rhoda Coffin and Sarah J. Smith learned of the abuses suffered by women prisoners at the hands of the male guards, they lobbied for an end to sexual abuse of women in state prisons. Soon after, Ellen Cheney Johnson facilitated the opening of the Dedham Asylum for Discharged Female Prisoners in Massachusetts. In 1869, their bill for a “Female Prison and Reformatory Institution for Girls and Women” passed the state legislature and served as a precedent to prison reformers across the country.
Sarah J. Smith, a minister, former Civil War nurse, and matron of Indiana's Home for the Friendless in Richmond, was the first superintendent of the Indiana Women’s Prison, as well as the first female superintendent of any prison – male or female – in the United States. As superintendent, she "relied on traditional methods of discipline" in addition to teaching inmates "some remunerative skills so that they would not be tempted to commit crimes after their release." Mainly, the women worked on laundry, sewing, and knitting, though some did industrial work. Rewards for good merit included working outdoors in the chicken farm or gardens, painting the rooms, and performing other small renovations.
At the opening of the institution, only sixteen offenders were held in the Women’s Prison; however, the number of inmates quickly increased. According to the Handbook of American Prisons published in 1929, 197 women were incarcerated on September 30, 1928. The Handbook noted that the women could benefit from increased organization in prison activities to provide a "wholesome experience in the duties and responsibilities of social living."
In 1968, Dana Blank tok the job of assistant superintendent at the Indiana Women’s Prison. Upon her arrival, the population of female offenders had dropped to around 88, and there were no treatment programs available to the women. Once Blank became superintendent in 1990, however, she began to change the culture of the prison to one that looks at each woman holistically. Because of the extremely high abuse rate among incarcerated women, Blank created a safe and nurturing environment for the women in addition to beginning the prison’s visitation program and summer camp in order to promote mother-child bonding.
Since 1900, the state of Indiana has sentenced to death four women, none of whom were ever executed. The most famous of them was Paula Cooper #864800, a 15- year old juvenile sentenced to death on July 11, 1986, for her role in the grisly murder of an elderly neighbor. While her death sentence was commuted in 1989, Cooper's sentence caused international uproar because of her youth, and even Pope John Paul II intervened on her behalf. While in prison, she continued to make headlines: a bill that raised Indiana’s age of execution for murder from 10 to 16 came directly from Paula Cooper’s case, as did a bill that made it illegal for jail employees to have sex with inmates after two guards and a recreational therapist were charged with having sex with Cooper while she was in jail awaiting sentencing.
According to data released on September 7, 2006, by the Indiana Department of Corrections, of the prison’s 430 inmates, 272 were white, 145 black, 9 Hispanic, 2 American Indian, and 2 Asian/Pacific. Compared to the percentages of white and black inmates of the state’s adult male facilities, the Indiana Women’s Prison has a higher percentage of whites incarcerated (63% to 55%) and a lower percentage of blacks incarcerated (34% to 37%). Rockville Correctional Facility, Indiana’s other female prison, has similar percentages: 64% of inmates are white, 32% black. Despite having whites account for nearly two-thirds of the inmates, white prison employees make up only 52% of the 165-member staff. Black staff members account for 45%, which is the highest percentage of black staff in the state. In a state where almost half the inmates are black, whites constitute 83% of prison employees while black staff members account for 14% of the DOC’s 6,245 employees.
Clara Green Gibson Carl was convicted in June 1922 of second-degree murder in the poisoning death of her second husband, Frank Carl. She was given a life sentence, her time to be served at the Indiana Women's Prison. She did not, however, serve out her sentence. In May 1937, she was paroled
Sarah I White is an inmate. She is currently the longest-serving female in Indiana. She was given life without parole in 1976, when she was only 16. She set a house on fire in an attempt to escape an abusive situation; the fire killed 6 people.
- Rafter, Nicole Hahn. Partial Justice: Women, Prisons and Social Control. Transaction Publishers, 1990.
- official Indiana Women’s Prison website
- O’Shea, Kathleen A. Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998. Praeger Publishers, 1999.
- Handbook of American Prisons and Reformatories published by the National Society of Penal Information, Incorporated, New York, NY, 1929
- Freedman, Estelle B. Their Sisters’ Keepers: Women’s Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930. The University of Michigan Press, 1981.
- Rafter, Nicole Hahn. Partial Justice: Women in State Prisons, 1800-1935. Northeastern University Press, 1985.
- "Race of Employees and Inmates" statistics, Indiana Department of Corrections
- "Indiana Women's Prison." - Indiana Department of Correction
- "Indiana Women's Prison" - Indiana Department of Correction (Archive)