Iowa’s prison population grew by three percent last year, but that was less than the nearly five percent growth experts had predicted. At last audit, there were just over 8600 inmates in the state’s prison system. Criminal and juvenile justice experts had expected more than 8700. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lettie Prell says the smaller increase is at least in part because courts are choosing less expensive, local detention programs for non-violent offenders. Prell says that holds offenders accountable in the community — they can keep their jobs, attend teratment, and be responsible for their families. But despite relatively modest growth in the number of inmates, the state’s prison system is still jammed beyond capacity. It’s designed to hold 6900 inmates, with beds for another 225 opening in January. That means about 15-hundred inmates have to sleep three-to-a-cell. Corrections spokesman John Baldwin says they are not asking for an expansion. Baldwin says there’s no legal limit on the number of inmates the state can hold in its current system. The courts could intervene if they decide the prisons are too overcrowded and unsafe, but Baldwin doesn’t expect that to happen. Baldwin calls the current system “appropriate,” saying the agency hasn’t lost a lawsuit in a decade and a half. Baldwin says the Corrections Department is still suffering from the moves it was forced to take after a court order to reduce overcrowding, so now it works hard to stay within the bounds of reasonable capacity.
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