December 19, 2014

Luster Heights Correction Facility may get a reprieve from closing

There’s been a possible reprieve for a prison camp that sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Last night, the Senate debated a wide-ranging state government reorganization bill that originally called for closing the Luster Heights Correction Facility.

There are 52 prisoners in the minimum-security camp today, most of whom are parole violators or men who’ve been serving time in the Anamosa state prison and are nearing the end of their sentences. Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm, a Democrat from Cresco, told her fellow senators that the economic health of her district would be damaged if the camp is closed.

“The offenders at Luster Heights are low-risk and living at Luster Heights prepares them for life back in their communities. The offenders have jobs that help the state cover the costs of their incarceration. They work for the surrounding communities, cleaning the roadways and doing multiple jobs,” Wilhelm said. “This helps all Iowans, not just northeast Iowa.” Luster Heights is close to Harpers Ferry and about six miles northeast of Marquette.

Most prisoners are there for a four-month stay in which they agree to participate in a substance abuse treatment program. “If these low-risk offenders are put into the facilities with hard-core offenders, then it is likely that they will not be properly prepared to go back into their communities,” Wilhelm said. “And then it is likely they will reoffend and come back into the prison system, thus increasing our prison population.”

During last night’s debate, 38 senators — including Wilhelm — voted to keep the Luster Heights prison camp open. The debate about the future of the camp will resume Wednesday in the House State Government Committee when that panel begins its review of the entire state government reorganization plan.