Wabash Valley Correctional Facility

Wabash Valley Correctional Facility

Wabash Valley Correctional Facility is a prison situated in south of Terre Haute, located in Carlisle, Indiana.


The Wabash Valley Correctional Facility was established in 1992.Construction of Wabash Valley Correctional Facility began on October 29, 1990. A convert|530|acre|km2|sing=on site north of Carlisle, Indiana was selected for the new prison because of the area’s low costs and access to U.S. 41. Wabash Valley Correctional Facility received its first group of 20 inmates on December 11, 1992. Although they were all low-medium-security prisoners, they were held in the prison’s super-maximum security section (SHU), because it was the only finished part at the time.

The Wabash Valley Correctional Facility had four security levels, divided into four sub-facilities. These facilities are divided by “internal zone” fences. The maximum security section was divided into four housing units that each have 88 two-man cells. The D-Unit, which was part of the maximum security level, was the administrative segregation/protective custody area. It has 15 cells. The high-medium-security section, consisting of five housing units, holds two inmates to a cell except for the K-Unit, which holds offenders in single cells. The K-Unit is a treatment center for inmates. The minimum-security section, which is outside the fence, was originally intended to house 120 inmates, but currently holds approximately 200 inmates.

Two chain-linked fences surround the prison. The inner fence has razor ribbon on the bottom, center, and top of the fence, and the outer fence has razor ribbon on the top. Between the fences there are intrusion alarm and microwave detection systems. Two armed vehicles guard the perimeter, and there are seven armed towers.


It holds approximately 2,125 male adult inmates under security that ranges from minimum to super-maximum in four sub-facilities. This state prison is best known for its super-maximum Secured Housing Unit (SHU) which drew national attention because of the 1997 publication Cold Storage, a report by Human Rights Watch [http://www.namiscc.org/News/2005/Winter/IndianaPrison.htm] .

Although forty-two percent of inmates at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility are people of color, minority employees make up only three percent of the staff. The proportion of employees of color is lower at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility than at any other prison for men in Indiana except Branchville. This stark disproportion is due to the prison’s location in a rural setting. The nearest largely populated area, Terre Haute, which has a fairly small Black and Hispanic population, is thirty miles from Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. Most of the inmates, meanwhile, come from the state’s urban centers.


Within the first three years, the state prison was in the news regarding treatment of inmates. On April 18, 1995, inmate Ted Lee began a hunger strike claiming that the prison food provided “inadequate nutrition” and medical attention was lacking. Prison officials claimed that Lee was not eating because of religious reasons, but his mother claimed that he was protesting the conditions. The following month, six other inmates began their own a hunger strike protesting the prison’s conditions of confinement. Ted Lee, whose previous hunger strike lasted ten to fourteen days, joined the six inmates. The inmates protested because of violent treatment by guards and lack of medical attention. They also claimed that a staff member threatened to poison their food.

The death of an inmate due to a drug overdose focused attention on drug dealing in the prison. On December 17, 1996, inmate Mark J. Ferrell #882213 [http://www.in.gov/apps/indcorrection/ofs/?offnum=882213&search2.x=22&search2.y=14] , age 26, died of a cocaine overdose after visiting with an acquaintance. The autopsy revealed that he had swallowed thirty balloons, of which twenty-nine contained marijuana and one contained cocaine. When reporters requested the prison’s visitor log and video footage of the visit, prison officials refused to cooperate. They claimed that the video had been taped over. However, the video was eventually released to the press revealing that Scott Strahle was Mark Ferrell’s last visitor. Ferrell’s cellmate told authorities that Ferrell would drink shampoo to regurgitate the balloons. The prison later revealed that Scott Strahle frequently visited Ferrell and that Ferrell had engaged in a “sex act” with Strahle in a previous visit that was caught on tape. Though this “sex act” was known to have taken place and Ferrell was reprimanded, Strahle was still allowed to visit Ferrell. Strahle eventually turned himself into authorities.

On October 3, 1996, Lee Hoefling, administrative assistant to the superintendent, and Don Tyler, internal affairs investigator, received five-day suspensions without pay for “the miscommunication concerning the existence of the videotape.”

Ferrell’s death raised questions about the extent of the drug problem at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. Between February 1992 and April 1996, more than one in six inmates tested positive for drugs. Following the death of Mark Ferrell, the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility changed its taping policy and heightened security for inmate visitors.

Cold Storage

In 1997, the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility was criticized by two human rights groups, Human Rights Watch and the Northwest Indiana Coalition to Abolish Control Unit Prisons, because of the treatment of inmates in the maximum-security Secured Housing Unit (SHU). The two groups asserted that confining inmates in their individual cells for twenty-two or more hours a day was inhumane, especially for inmates with mental illnesses. That same year, Human Rights Watch published their report, Cold Storage, which brought national attention to Wabash Valley Correctional Facility’s treatment of inmates.

The SHU Agreement

In response to a law suit brought by the ACLU of Indiana, the Indiana Department of Correction agreed in May 2006 to move all mentally ill inmates from the super-maximum Secured Housing Unit by October 2006. According to the Department of Correction’s medical director Dr. Amos Elton, “Studies have shown that people that have a serious psychological disorder may be worsened by being put in these secured housing units.” Since 2000, four inmates in the Secured Housing Unit have killed themselves and several others have badly abused themselves by ripping chunks of flesh from their bodies [http://www.namiscc.org/News/2005/Winter/IndianaPrison.htm] . In the past, inmates whose mental health greatly deteriorated were sent to the psychiatric care unit in New Castle. However, once they were stabilized they were sent back to the SHU, where their mental health would worsen again according to the lawsuit [http://www.namiscc.org/News/2005/Winter/IndianaPrison.htm] .

Programs for Inmates

The Wabash Valley Correctional Facility offers substance abuse, religious, and educational programs, including Thinking For A Change, a program addressing the inmates’ thought processes that lead him to criminal behavior, Clean Lifestyle Is Freedom Forever (CLIFF), a program assisting inmates addicted to methamphetamines and other drugs, Purposeful Living Units Serve (PLUS), a faith-based program that intends to strengthen morals and behavior of inmates prior to re-entry into society. Vincennes University offers a G.E.D. and Special Education program for inmates at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. Associate and bachelor degrees in general studies are offered through Indiana State University and an associate degree and bachelor degree in Business Management are offered by Grace College.


*The facility was screened on National Geographic Channel for a four-part series "America's Hardest Prisons".

*The facility has been shown on the MSNBC series .


[1] “Carlisle prison doors open to smiling faces.” Tribune-Star. 30 October 1992.

[2] “Prison welcomes first ‘residents’.” Tribune-Star. 11 December 1992.

[3] Wedding, Rachel. “Prison Escapee apprehended.” Tribune-Star. 12 March 1995.

[4] {Pages 1-2} Department of Correction Document, Undated (circa 2003-2005), obtained from Wabash Valley Correctional Facility {“Ground was broken for the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility October 29, 1990.”}

[5] Hudson, Michelle. “Inmate at Carlisle not eating Mom claims son is protesting conditions, prison disagrees.” Tribune-Star. 18 April 1995.

[6] Hudson, Michelle. “Inmates protesting conditions at Carlisle Six go on hunger strike to complain of abuse by guards.” Tribune-Star. 6 May 1995.

[7] “More to be done DOC should dig deeper at Carlisle.” Tribune-Star. 6 October 1996.

[8] Hudson, Michelle. “Two officials suspended at Carlisle Videotape mix up in state prison death results in discipline.” Tribune-Star. 3 October 1996.

[9] “Mark Ferrell's story State continues to shield the facts.” Tribune-Star. 19 August 1996

[10] “More watchful eye Prison system on right track, but change coming too slowly Ignited by tragedy and turmoil, policies are changing at the Indiana Department of Correction.” Tribune-Star. 20 November 1996.

[11] Smith, Mike. “Super max prisons criticized DOC head listening to groups concerns about human rights.” Tribune-Star. 4 November 1997.

[12] “DOC moving mentally ill from ‘supermax’.” The Indianapolis Star. 1 June 2006

[13] [http://in.gov/indcorrection/facility/wvc/general.htm Wabash Valley Correctional Facility Website]

[14] “A proposal by officials at the Wabash Valley Correctional facility could have prison inmates sorting through piles of cardboard, newspapers and aluminum cans for recycling.” Tribune-Star. 10 January 1998.

[15] Cureton, William. “Expanding Composting Programs At Indiana Prisons.” BioCycle. May 2000, Vol. 41 Issue 5.

[16] Population Breakdown September 2006

External links

* [http://www.in.gov/idoc/2409.htm Official site]

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