IDOC, South County Coalition host informational session on $1.2B Westville prison construction
WESTVILLE — Indiana correctional officials are planning for the total reconstruction of the nearly-75-year-old Westville Correctional Facility, and will meet with local residents on Monday to discuss the plan.
The Indiana Department of Correction and the South County Community Coalition will host an informational meeting Monday at Westville School about the project – a complete reconstruction of the prison expected to cost about $1.2 billion.
The facility has “exceeded its useful life, and a new facility is expected to be safer for employees and more efficient,” according to IDOC.
Annie Goeller, IDOC deputy commissioner of strategic alignment, said the project will be a “complete rebuild” of the aging facility, and the department is currently awaiting funding approval.
The presentation to the SCCC will include “discussing the project, why it’s needed, and the benefits to the community, including permanent jobs at the facility and construction jobs while the facility is being built,” Goeller said.
The informational meeting will begin at 6 p.m. March 20 at the Westville School cafeteria at 207 E. Valparaiso St. The session is open to the public.
The SCCC organized the event with IDOC to provide clarity to local officials and community members about the impact of the project, according to SCCC Vice President and La Porte County Council member Justin Kiel.
The project could begin construction as early as this summer and is expected to create more than 1,500 construction jobs.
“We believe this project will bring a good deal of jobs and economic opportunity to the Westville community during construction, and we want locals to have the best chance to prepare for those opportunities,” Kiel said.
The Westville Correctional Facility has a current capacity of 3,400 inmates and employs more than 900 people (700 IDOC staff and 200 contracted workers).
When the project is complete, the prison will have 4,200 inmate beds, plus another 200 for “mental health and addiction recovery” offenders. It will also have 18,000 square feet of classroom space.
According to IDOC, significant improvements will include:
Accessible programming space built into units
Every element of design focused on safety and security, including lights, fixtures and built-in steel furniture
Clear line of sight of staff and incarcerated population from central security stations
Staff locker rooms and showers
The physically impossibility to throw items over perimeter walls
Modern classrooms with computer work areas
Multiple vocational offerings, including HVAC, RV repair, automotive sciences, barber training and food service
Modern, maintainable and sustainable utilities
Construction of the sprawling campus, which is now WCF, began in 1949, and Beatty Memorial Hospital, a state-run mental health facility, opened its doors to 135 patients in February 1951, according to the SCCC.
In 1974, a lawsuit filed by Indiana prisoners in U.S. District Court forced the state to reduce overcrowding in its prisons, creating the need for another prison, so then-Gov. Otis Bowen and the legislature transferred Beatty to the IDOC.
In July 1979, following renovations and additions, 1,200 offenders were transferred to the Westville Correctional Center’s 36 floors of dorms, originally planned as a minimum- to medium-security facility, along with a work release program.
But with only 32 segregation cells available for an inmate population that had grown to 2,600 by 1989, the 220-bed Maximum Control Segregation Unit was added in 1991.
The facility is located on 411 acres just south of U.S. 6 between U.S. 421 and State Road 2. Of that, 85 acres of the grounds are enclosed by 1.75 miles of electric stun fence.
Department representatives will be present at Monday’s meeting to answer questions about the project following the presentation.
“The Department of Corrections is one of the largest employers in La Porte County,” SCCC President Allen Stevens said, “and we are thankful for their willingness to engage community stakeholders as they take on this project.”