Iowa’s State Penitentiary at Fort Madison opens a new wing this week, to house and treat offenders diagnosed as mentally disordered. The clinical care unit’s been under construction since February 2000. The 200-bed unit will provide care for ambulatory medical patients and those under care for psychiatric problems, mental or behavioral disorders. Ron Welder, a spokesman for the warden, says prisoners with mental disorders present a special challenge to wardens. He says many don’t respond well to traditional correctional methods, he says, and the staff will develop programs to treat them. Welder says there will be no doubt that the patients are still in prison when they’re at the clinical care unit. It’ll be staffed by correctional officers and security will be paramount. The Oakdale classification facility has had a small unit for prisoners with mental disorders, and Welder says lots of states grapple with how to care for inmates with mental problems. The new unit will house only male prisoners and have about 100 staffers, and the first prisoners are due to arrive August 29.
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