Pendleton Reformatory — making men, that’s the job

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On Sept. 13, 1923, The Pendleton Times front page was all about the construction of the new Indiana Reformatory taking shape in Pendleton.

The structure was built on a 1,000-acre farm, the idea being that the inmates could not only feed themselves but also supply food to the state institutions in Indianapolis.

Indiana opened its first state prison in 1821 in Jeffersonville, followed in 1861 by one in Michigan City.

Both prisons housed all offenders, regardless of age, sex, crime or sentence.

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In 1873, Indiana Women’s Prison opened in Indianapolis for women and girls.

This set in motion the thinking that young men and first-time offenders should not be housed with repeat offenders.

In 1897, the Jeffersonville State Prison became the Indiana Reformatory; it was to specifically house those young men and first-time offenders between the ages of 16 and 30, with the exception of those convicted of murder or sentenced to life terms. In 1918, a fire at the Jeffersonville Reformatory destroyed many of the structures.

Gov. Warren T. McCray formed a commission to determine the next location of the reformatory — rebuild at Jeffersonville or find a new location.

Eventually Pendleton was chosen as the location.

Construction was started on the Pendleton Reformatory in 1922. A board of trustees was in charge of the work; the primary responsibility of the trustees was to build an institution with an “economy in maintenance, operation and at all times safe confinement.”

The trustees kept costs down, partially because much work was done by the reformatory prisoners, numbering about 150.

The bricks used were manufactured at the farm.

Construction was not without its difficulties. At one point there was a strike by the plumbers requesting 10 hours’ pay for 8 hours work. (Their demand was not met.)

So many buildings were being constructed that there was always a shortage of bricklayers.

All workmen were checked four times a day by the state to see that each worker went to work on time and did not quit ahead of time.

Using an on-site 60-acre gravel pit, two large gravel washers were erected to aid in construction. It was planned that they would be a permanent part of the reformatory; built to aid in construction but also to provide gravel for the building of state highways in the future.

During the time of the construction, 20 buildings were erected and a wall 30 feet high and a mile in length surrounding the buildings. The wall was built almost exclusively by the prisoners. The wall forms a square around the reformatory occupying 30 acres. There were two cell houses, each 300 feet long, forming most of the front wall. Behind these were the workshops and other buildings. The administration building was constructed in front.

Not all construction was completed by September of that year.

Two industrial buildings were used to temporarily house the 500 prisoners being transferred from Jeffersonville to join the 150 already at work there.

Those prisoners not needed for construction provided labor for the workshops making shirts, chairs, etc.

The Legislature in 1923 provided $2 million to complete the reformatory. The trustees reported that $1.88 of each $100 collected in taxes that year, 1923, was spent to complete the reformatory. The total cost to build the reformatory was more than $3 million.

G. A. H. Shideler, first superintendent of the Indiana State Reformatory in Pendleton, made “Making Men; that’s the Job” his motto upon the opening of the Pendleton Reformatory.

The function of this new reformatory was to make men from young, first-time offenders.

Superintendent Shideler stated the offenders worked through the week, “and then on Sunday morning, having had a shower bath, clean suit of underwear, hair combed, teeth cleaned and a breakfast of plain wholesome food, they are at Chapel and it’s an inspiration to hear a thousand boys singing: “Tell Mother I’ll be There.” (Sept. 13, 1923, issue of The Pendleton Times)

Original windows from the reformatory along with other memorabilia are at the Pendleton Historical Museum