Jail History
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Jail History

The Offices of the Marion County Sheriff, Marion County Prosecutor and Justice of the Peace were created under Indiana's Constitution in 1816. The first Sheriff of Marion County was Hervey Bates and he was elected to a two-year term beginning in 1822. The first Marion County Jail was a log cabin built on the northwest corner of the intersection of Market and Delaware in downtown, Indianapolis.  The county had to pay $59 to have the woods at the corner cleared before construction could begin.

The first jail in Indianapolis cost the county $312. It lasted for eleven years until it was burned down by an inmate incarcerated on a theft charge during an escape attempt. Learning the lessons of history the second Marion County Jail was built of brick and relocated to the southwest corner of Alabama and Market Street. This jail cost the county $60,000 but it did provide a second floor for the Sheriff's living quarters.

In 1852 the third Marion County Jail was built. Located on the East side of Alabama Street between Market and Washington Street the structure was made of stone. This cost of this jail was $100,000. On January 29th, 1879 the jail was stormed by citizens of Marion County. Three inmates were taken from the jail and lynched. One of the three had killed a woman and a child, another poisoned a school teacher with strychnine.


By the late 1880's it was determined that the jail was again outdated and the county needed additional space. In 1891 the fourth Marion County Jail (above) was constructed. The building was built at the intersection of Alabama Street and Maryland- just south of Washington Street. The cost of this jail was $150,000 and it was designed to house 150 prisoners, the various administrative, executive and law enforcement offices of MCSD as well as the living accommodations for the Sheriff and his family. The image you see here is the oldest known photograph of any Marion County Jail. It is believed that this picture was taken sometime soon after the completion of the structure during the late 1890's or early in the 20th century.

By the year 1930 the space allotted for 150 inmates in the Marion County Jail was now being shared by more than 200 persons. By 1940 the jail was holding an daily average of 291 and by 1958 the average count was approaching 500- more than 300 percent above the designed population limits of the Jail.

Photo courtesy of William Chance

In December of 1963, under Sheriff Robert H. Fields, ground was broken for the 5th Marion County Jail and it was opened in August, 1965. The new jail's inmate capacity was 648 and increased again to 778 in 1978. Total cost of the facility was $4,000,000- financed by a bond issue.

In 1985, under Sheriff Jim Wells, the size of the jail was more than doubled with a five story addition to the Jail (below). Approximately three hundred new cells and several new jail offices were added- including medical and dental offices, visitation areas, recreation and an inmate's law library.

Photo courtesy of David G. Lee