INDIANAPOLIS — A projected increase in new violent felons and already overcrowded prisons have put Indiana in desperate need of more cell space for maximum security inmates, state Department of Correction officials said Thursday.

Correction Commissioner Edwin Buss told the Senate Appropriations Committee that hundreds of new violent offenders — including murderers, rapists and robbers — are expected to be sent to state prisons by the end of 2011, but space to appropriately imprison them is maxed out.

Buss said the state last built a new prison in 2001, and the last maximum security prison was built in 1991. Yet he said the number of inmates has grown by about 4 percent annually, and more than 100 new crimes or enhanced sentences have been enacted by the General Assembly since 1990.

“So it should be of no surprise that we stand here today asking for prison expansion,” Buss told the Republican-controlled panel.

Though Gov. Mitch Daniels has proposed a two-year state budget that would cut most agency budgets by 8 percent and hold the line on education and state police spending, he does want money to expand two prisons.

Daniels wants lawmakers to approve $40 million in bonding authority to expand the Miami Correctional Facility near Peru and the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility near Sullivan. Each would add about 600 beds, and the state would make $3 million in annual bond payments.

The department also is seeking $60 million in new spending for operating costs over the next two years to cover a projected increase in inmates.

About 28,000 people are in the department’s custody now, but that is expected to climb to more than 32,000 by fiscal year 2011.

Democrats who control the House passed a one-year budget plan that would include about $23 million in new operating spending for the department in the next fiscal year that begins July 1. They also increased spending for community corrections by about $5 million, but they did not include bonding authority for prison expansion.

House Democrats have questioned whether prison expansion should be a priority, especially since Daniels’ proposed budget would effectively freeze funding for public schools at current levels and cut spending for higher education. Some Democrats say more emphasis should be placed on alternative sentencing.

But Buss said Indiana was not a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” state. Indiana imprisons about 57 people out of every 10,000 adults. Of Indiana’s four surrounding states, only Illinois has a lower rate.

Still, the department says more prison cells are needed to securely house the growing number of violent offenders in Indiana, and expanding community-based corrections or making room by moving lower-risk offenders out of dormitory-style prison space offer no solution to a serious problem.

Serious felons should begin their terms in a more controlled environment in single or double-bunked cells, rather than dormitory-style prisons that are harder to monitor and control, the department said. Buss said some maximum security inmates already are in triple-bunked cells or have been placed in medium security prisons.

“We are out of almost all space, but especially maximum security,” he said. “The only solution is a prison cell.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said department officials made their case through testimony and pages of facts and figures, and he planned to include their funding request in the Senate Republican version of a new state budget.

“Really it’s all just due to the growth in our prison population, particularly among the more violent offenders,” Kenley said. “That’s why they had all those pages and pages of numbers to show you who they were, why they were there and how they got there so nobody would feel that somehow it was a problem that could be solved in another direction.”

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