A consultant’s report presented today to the Iowa Board of Corrections recommends the state build a new maximum security prison rather than renovate the current facility at Fort Madison.
The report also says the state needs to revamp the way classifies prisoners and determines the security level of the prison where the inmate is sent. Consultant Michael Lewis of the Durrant Group says building a new maximum security facility at Fort Madison is projected to cost just over 110-million dollars, while renovations at the current facility are projected at 132-million dollars.
But Lewis says the cost is not the biggest factor in the recommendation. Lewis says the biggest overriding factor is staff efficiency, as building new is cheaper than renovation, but he says a new facility would also be more staff efficient. Board of Corrections chair Robyn Mills says Fort Madison now is the most expensive prison to run. Mills says it cost almost double to staff the facility compared to the new facilities because of “the inefficiencies in the system.”
The report recommends adding more prison beds and Lewis says greater efficiency would allow the Department of Corrections to do that without increasing staff costs. Lewis says a significant study would need to be done on the staffing issue, but he says the state could add an additional 1,100 prison beds with the same staff numbers due to the greater efficiencies in the system. Lewis says their recommendations did not look at moving the maximum security prison from Fort Madison.
Corrections Board chair Mills says that is something that has to be discussed if they decide to make some change. Mills says they’ll take a look at Lewis’ report and the fact that the infrastructure is already in Fort Madison, but she says everything is open for discussion.
The consultants made several recommendations regarding improvements to handling women prisoners, including moving 100 women prisoners from Mount Pleasant to the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women in Mitchellville. Mills says putting the women in one prison is the first step on the agenda.
Mills says she looks forward to the plans to go ahead with that move as soon as possible. Mills says she was interested to see that they don’t need more maximum security beds, just changing the beds, but that they really need to look at the number of minimum security beds. And she says if they add prison beds, then it might be community based corrections beds instead of minimum security beds. The moving of 100 women from Mount Pleasant would open that space for other prisoners.
Mills says the board can’t decide on adding more prison beds though until the classification system is updated. Mills says until they can get an accurate view of who is in the prison, they can’t make plans on where the new beds go and what type of beds they are. Mills says the process for updating the prison classification system should not take that long and they could then move along with decisions on how much new space is needed.
Mills says she would like to have recommendations on the issue to the governor by next year. The report also recommends adding 400 more beds at the Newton prison, and 257 more community based corrections beds. C-B-C beds are at facilities that don’t have as much security, and are used to ease prisoners back into regular life.