IN: Another Debate On Prison Cells Vs. Education


After serving 12 years of a 20-year sentence for a slew of crimes, including robbery and kidnapping, Kelvin Fuller of Indiana was moved in 2007 from maximum-security to medium-security confines, says the Indianapolis Star. A few weeks later, he escaped. He went on a five-day crime spree that included robbing a bank and attacking and robbing a female bus driver before he was captured in Montana. To Indiana Correction Commissioner Ed Buss, Fuller is the poster child for why, even though Indiana is cash-strapped in an economic downturn, the state needs to build additional maximum-security cell blocks at two of its prisons. Despite double-bunking maximum-security prisoners and even triple-bunking lower-security prisoners, facilities are at 99 percent capacity. With about 7,400 maximum-security prisoners right now and only 6,186 maximum-security beds, Buss fears more Fullers.

Since 1989, the legislature has passed 116 laws creating new crimes or stiffening penalties. Each law alone might account for only a couple of more years in prison on any given offense — but they add up. Overall, lawmakers have approved new laws resulting in 250 to 275 years of additional prison time. “We clearly have a tendency to want to show that we’re strong on law enforcement by passing more crimes and by elevating things to felonies. That’s somewhat of a contagious disease around here,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley. Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson would rather see prison dollars going to education, including Indiana University at Bloomington, which is in her district. “The budget expresses the state’s priorities,” Simpson said. “When you’re cutting the higher-ed budget in order to fund the Department of Correction, that seems like priorities turned upside down.”

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