House Republicans are cautioning against a rush to judgment on where to build a new state maximum security prison. Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, has called for a roughly quarter-billion dollar prison expansion plan that includes building a new maximum security prison in Fort Madison to replace prison that’s there.
Representative Lance Horbach, a Republican from Tama, says it may make more sense to build the new prison in central Iowa, closer to other correctional facilities, rather than in the far southeast corner of the state. "If we put it in Newton, we have a release center, a medium-security facility and then we would have a ‘Max.’ How would that help us? That would help us because when we have problems…inside the prison…We would be able to move them up from the medium (security prison) up to the (maximum security prison)," Horbach says.
"On the flip side of that, if they’re in the maximum (security) prison, doing their work, going to their classes, getting their treatment, being a model inmate, we can move them down — no transportation costs." Horbach says he understands the economic development impact the current prison has in the Fort Madison area, but it may save the state millions in the long-term to have a centralized system.
"There are some things that we would like to discuss," Horbach says. "We’re not set in stone on any location. We’re not against Fort Madison. What we are against is not fulfilling the fiduciary responsibility that the taxpayers sent us here to have."
Representative David Tjepkes, a Republican from Gowrie, suggests Fort Madison seems to be the political pick for the new prison, but perhaps not the prudent one. "The main thing that we’re concerned about if we’re going to make a large building project and lay it on…the taxpayers, we think that the decision should be based on efficiency and effectiveness…for the taxpayers of the State of Iowa," Tjepkes says.
The Republicans in the Iowa House suggest tearing down some of the oldest buildings in the prison complex in Fort Madison and converting the facility for other uses, such as a place for treating mentally ill or terminally ill inmates.