Iowa State Penitentiary Warden Patti Wachtendorf says just 30 inmates were selected to invite two of their family members for a meal together inside the prison.
“None of the offenders who have broken rules in the last three years, major or even minor rules, qualify to attend this event,” Wachtendorf told Radio Iowa.
The menu for Saturday’s meal will include chicken, baked beans, and cookies. Wachtendorf expressed frustration that the event has been described as a “family picnic” in some media reports.
“Picnic is probably the wrong term to use,” Wachtendorf said. “It’s not a picnic that you and I would do…you know, you go out with a picnic basket, a blanket, you lay in the grass, you might have a bottle of wine, cheese and crackers – that’s not what this is.” The family members will still pass through metal detectors to enter the State Pen’s visitor room, where the meal will be served. Wachtendorf hopes to make this an annual event.
“It’s an incentive, if you will, for guys to behave,” Wachtendorf said. “Some of the guys are getting out again and going back to their families, so we do want to help that bonding between family members and the people who are locked up. For those who are not getting out, it’s a win-win for everybody involved if the guys behave – for staff and for each other.”
Wachtendorf notes that some of the prison inmates haven’t sat down to have a meal with their family in over 30 years. The state’s maximum security prison in Fort Madison currently houses just under 700 inmates.