The head of Iowa’s prison system says it’s time for the state to build a new, maximum security prison to replace the aging Fort Madison prison and Governor Tom Vilsack says the move makes sense. “When you take a look at the cost of maintaining Fort Madison and you compare it to every other (state) prison, it is very clear that we could over a period of time save the cost of a new facility,” Vilsack says. “It might relieve some of the pressure. It might provide for greater safety for both the community and the workers, so it is something that I believe ought to be taken very seriously.”
Vilsack says now it’s up to legislators to okay spending money on a study to determine the actual cost of building a new prison. “To put together a plan and find out precisely what the cost would be,” Vilsack says. “I think that’s the next appropriate step to take.” Vilsack says legislators “have the power” not to proceed with plans for a new maximum security prison, but the governor says a new facility would be less expensive to run and safer.
Two inmates at “The Fort” escaped in November, prompting the debate about the need for a new prison. Vilsack has said Fort Madison should be the site of a new prison, if one is built, because the workforce is in the area and the prison is one of the economic anchors in the southeast Iowa community. “If this were just a normal business, a Maytag for example, we would obviously be taking steps to try to preserve those jobs in the community,” Vilsack says. But Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Clarion, said in December it made more sense to build a new prison in central Iowa.
The governor, who is from Mount Pleasant, says it will be “unfortunate” if legislators start quibbling over the location for the new prison. “We all have a responsibility to the safety and security of the people of Iowa and particularly the people in the community where there is a maximum security prison,” Vilsack says. “Clearly we could do a better job with a different, better designed facility and it would cost less money to maintain.” State prison officials say it might cost about 80-million dollars to build a new, maximum security prison. They also say compared the other, newer state prisons, it costs twice as much to staff and run the prison in Fort Madison.