The Herald Bulletin

Overnight Update


January 12, 2012

Editorial: Prison land sale should move ahead as planned

Few people care to live next to a prison. The fear, understandably, is that an inmate could escape and hide inside one of the homes, threatening its residents.

But that fear shouldn’t preclude a housing developer from building homes on land next to a correctional facility. If the developer can sell the homes, then more power to him. Perhaps the same is true of a farmer who finds he can till the land but he may not want to live on it. Or it might apply to the farmer who wants to reside on the acreage.

There’s tillable, empty farmland currently up for sale just north, east and south of the Pendleton Correctional Facility. The acreage includes three residential lots on County Road 750 West. The auction is set for 10 a.m. on Jan. 19 at the Garden Hotel in Anderson and will include nine tracts of land totaling 658 acres.

Among all the privileges being bandied about here, it is also within a resident’s power to petition against that sale. Retired prison guard Joe Riley, with support from state Rep. Scott Reske, D-Pendleton, started a petition against the sale.

Riley offers no recommendation for how the land should be used, other than it serves as a buffer — a wide open space easily monitored by prison guards — between the facility and nearby Maple Ridge Elementary School.

But there hasn’t been an escape from the prison in at least 10 years. The current security fences seem to be doing the trick. Fences don’t mean that escape couldn’t happen and lead to horrific consequences. It’s such fear, speculative and perhaps unwarranted, that’s fueling opposition.

But the land at Pendleton is not being used as it once was.

The Indiana Department of Administration decided to sell the land because it was no longer being farmed by correctional facility staff and inmates.

Previously, a grain, hay and firewood operation was under the arm of PEN Products. In 2011, PEN sold its Pendleton Correctional Facility farm equipment at public auction, attracting 121 bidders from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. The lineup of equipment varied from grain drying equipment, farm tractors, grain and vegetable field production equipment and cattle gates. PEN was to maintain its hay enterprise, however.

The equipment is gone. The land is not being used. The state needs the money.

A sense of safety helps define a community. But safety shouldn’t be based on invalid paranoia. A community doesn’t always work if it waits for what-ifs.

Certainly, a developer may find it impossible to sell homes next to a double-security fence and guard towers. A farmer may decide it isn’t worth the time to till land next to a prison.

But the state should be allowed to sell the surplus land surrounding Pendleton and let the buyer not only decide but beware.

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