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Indiana state prisons photograph collection

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: P075

Scope and Contents

This collection includes black-and-white photographs, most likely from the Indiana Department of Correction, in Indiana ranging from circa 1930 to circa 1955, regarding buildings, facilities, prisoners, corrections staff and administration, and prison life in Indiana State Prison in Michigan City; Indiana Reformatory in Jeffersonville; Indiana State Farm in Putnam County; Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis; and unidentified prisons. Most of the photographs appear to have come from a photograph album or scrapbook.


  • circa 1930-1955

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Historical Note

The first Indiana State Prison opened in 1822 on Lower Market Street in Jeffersonville near Indiana's southern border. After a couple decades, the prison relocated to neighborhing Clarksville, with the new facility opening in October 1847. With the Industrial Revolution came the prison-industrial complex, with inmates working in shops set up by manufacturing companies on the grounds. All inmates were housed together regardless of crime, gender, or age.

The state decided to create a second prison in the north in 1856, settling on Michigan City when a land opportunity on the western edge of the city presented itself. C. W. Seely was selected as the first warden of the new prison and, after receiving funds from the Indiana General Assembly, used 100 prisoners from Jeffersonville to construct the new facility. When it was completed in 1860, the Michigan City prison was named Indiana State Prison North, while Clarksville's became Indiana State Prison South. Where prisoners were sent depended primarily on the location of the sentencing court, with the National Road (U.S. 40) dividing the state in two halves.

Indiana State Prison North first enclosed 8.3 acres, but the facility was eventually enlarged to enclose 24 acres. Michigan City's prison became known simply as Indiana State Prison, as it is known in 2022. Presently, it is designated as a level 4 maximum security prison, incarcerating adult male violent offenders, prisoners with long sentences, and Indiana's death row inmates. Today, the prison complex encompasses 100 acres and its operating capacity, including the medium security facility, is 2,434 men. Alfred F. Dowd held the position of warden from 1938 to 1945 and again from 1949 to 1953.

Rhoda and Charles Coffin helped expose the sexual abuse and exploitation women suffered in the state prison in Jeffersonville and reformers pushed for the creation of a state women's prison. In 1873, the Indiana Reformatory Institution for Women and Girls at 401 North Randolph Street in Indianapolis received its first 17 offenders. It was the first correctional facility for adult women, and later, first maximum security women's prison, in the United States. Sarah J. Smith, also a Quaker, became its first warden and Rhoda Coffin sat on the prison's board of managers. The mission of the institution was to reform and rehabilite its inmates through labor and education. Although Smith and Coffin have generally been viewed virtuous humanitarians, prisoners and staff members accused Smith and her staff of physically abusing the women under her care on Coffin's watch and, ironically, Coffin's husband was a white-collar criminal never brought to justice. In 1899, children under the age of 15 in the reformatory were separated from the adult population. The Indiana Girls School was establsihed in 1907 to house these children, while the adult facility was renamed the Indiana Woman's Prison (later the Indiana Women's Prison). Superintendant Dana Blank began the prison's visitation program and summer camp in order to promote mother-child bonding in the 1990s. The prison operated at its original site until November 21, 2009, when it was relocated to 2596 North Girls’ School Road, the site of the Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility (formerly Indiana Girls School). Allegations of abuse, inhumane conditions, and medical neglect continue to plague the facility, especially during the early months of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In 1897, Indiana State Prison South was repurposed as the Indiana Reformatory for men 16-30 years of age; men over 30 were sent to the Michigan City prison. In 1918, fire swept through the reformatory. The state sold the land and buildings to Colgate Company 1921, building a new reformatory in near Pendleton in central Indiana in 1923. The 500-acre complex was renamed Pendleton Correctional Facility in 1996. As of 2022, the facility has maximum and minimum-security incarceration for adult males over 22 years old and has a population of about 1,850 inmates, about 200 of which are minimum-security prisoners.

The Indiana State Farm was founded in 1914 as a minimum security work camp for male misdemeanants, previously held in county jails, receiving its first offenders in 1915. "The Farm," as it is known even in 2022, had a brick yard, rock quarry, farmland, gardens, woodworking shops, dairy and cattle barns, chicken coops, and other options for inmate labor in the mid-20th century. The site originally comprised 3,500 acres in Putnam County, which decreased in 2009 when 917 acres were allocated to the Department of Natural Resource. The facility, renamed Putnamville Correctional Facility, was reclassified as medium security and began receiving convicted felons in 1977.

The prisons were each managed by a board of trustees and a warden until 1952 when the Indiana Department of Correction was established, eliminating the need for the boards. The exception was the Indiana Women's Prison, which maintained their board until 1975 when it was disbanded and the facility placed under the Indiana Parole Board.


Items in the collection.

Fischer, Jessica Erin. "Indiana Women's Prison." Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 2021. Revised March 2021. Accesed May 17, 2022.

Godvin, Morgan. "Injustice at the Indiana Women’s Prison." JSTOR Daily, April 21, 2022. Accessed May 17, 2022.

Hackney, Suzanne. "Hackney: Conditions at Indiana Women's Prison are 'unbearable.'" Indianapolis Star, July 19, 2020. Accessed May 17, 2022.

Harper, Jake. "Indiana Women's Prison Called 'Ticking Time Bomb' As COVID Lockdown Continues." WFYI Public Media, July 21, 2020. Accessed May 16, 2022.

Indiana Department of Correction. "Fact Sheet: Indiana State Prison." Accessed May 13, 2022.

Indiana Department of Correction. "History of the Indiana State Prison." Created 2014. Accessed May 13, 2022.

Indiana Department of Correction. "Indiana State Prison." Accessed May 13, 2022.

Indiana Department of Correction. "Indiana Women's Prison." Accessed May 16, 2022.

Indiana Department of Correction. "Pendleton Correctional Facility." Accessed May 13, 2022.

Indiana Department of Correction. "Putnamville Correctional Facility." Accessed May 17, 2022.

Indiana Historical Bureau. "Indiana State Prison." Created 2006. Accessed May 13, 2022.

Jones, Michelle. "Women's Prison History: The Undiscovered Country." Perspectives on History, February 1, 2015. Accessed May 17, 2022.

Knochel, Mary, and Rafael Ramirez. Prison Profiles: Classification of Prisoners and Prisons in Indiana. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2001. Accessed May 17, 2022. Google Books.

Onion, Rebecca. "The Pen.", March 22, 2015. Accessed May 16, 2022.

Wikipedia. "Indiana State Prison." Accessed May 13, 2022.

Wikipedia. "Indiana Women's Prison." Accessed May 16, 2022.

Wikipedia. "Pendleton Correctional Facility." Accessed May 13, 2022.


0.2 Cubic Feet (1 half manuscript box)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged by subject, then numerically.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a donation.


No further additions are expected.

Processing Information

Collection processing completed 2022/05/17 by Brittany Kropf. EAD finding aid created 2022/05/17 by Brittany Kropf.
Indiana state prisons photograph collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.