February 12, 2021

Indiana Women's Prison Warden Retires Amid Review Of Operations

Article origination WFYI-FM
Jake Harper/Side Effects Public Media

Jake Harper/Side Effects Public Media

Laurie Johnson, warden of the Indiana Women’s Prison, is leaving her post. The change comes after the state corrections department began a “comprehensive review of all IWP operations” last month. 

Johnson began her career at the Indiana Department of Correction in 1990, and became warden of the women’s prison in 2017. In January, she was on approved leave when the department internally announced plans to examine the Indianapolis facility’s “programs, treatment services, maintenance, and situational readiness,” according to an email sent to prison staff. Deputy warden Virginia Sampson became the acting head of the prison. 

A Department of Correction spokesperson declined to comment on the circumstances of Johnson’s departure. Information from the State Personnel Department shows Johnson’s last day in her position was Feb.19, and that she is eligible for retirement benefits. 

Last summer, Side Effects reported that women in the prison were locked in their cells in the summer heat, with limited access to toilets, running water and air conditioning. Several medical emergencies occurred during that time, according to internal emails, and some women had to resort to urinating in cups when they weren’t let out to use the bathroom. 

Current and former staff said the prison wasn’t doing enough to prevent COVID-19, and some said they felt pressured to treat the women harshly, hastening staff turnover.

Advocate Kelsey Kaufman, who worked in the prison from 2012 to 2017, noted Johnson’s leave in a public Facebook post last month, stating that the prison was in “terrible shape” compared to before Johnson’s tenure. “The big question now is whether the prison will revert to its former glory,” she wrote. 

Since Johnson went on leave, the prison’s new leadership has allowed inmates more freedom of movement and ordered doors unlocked in certain housing units. According to internal emails shared with Side Effects, staff said the changes made their jobs easier and that the inmates “seemed happier.”

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health. Jake Harper can be reached at jharper@wfyi.org. He's on Twitter @jkhrpr.

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