Authorities say some inmates in Iowa’s maximum security prison got their hands on illegal drugs and officials don’t yet know how the drugs wound up inside prison walls.
Forty-four of the inmates in the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison were not allowed to leave their cells for the past week after tests confirmed some of the inmates had used illegal drugs. Prison officials will not say what type of drug or drugs were used and so far none of the prison staff have been accused of passing the drugs to the inmates.
State Senator Gene Fraise, a Democrat from Fort Madison who’s had a leading role in crafting the budget for the prison, cautions against over-reacting. “Just like the two people that escaped (last November), it wasn’t because of the facility, it was because of the cut-back on the (guard) towers and other things…so it was an internal management thing why those two guys escaped in my opinion,” Fraise says. “We’ve got all those towers manned, which is fine with me, but now I understand we’ve put a fence all the way around inside the wall — on the inside — a cyclone-type fence with barbed wire on the top and I think that was, in my opinion, not necessary.”
Fraise says drugs are, unfortunately, found in all of Iowa’s prisons.
State Representative Lance Horbach, a Republican from Tama who also has served as a leader of the committee that oversees prison spending, says there are a lot of people who have access to the inside of the prison. “It’s not just staff,” Horbach says. “There’s vendors and probably the people we have to take the hardest look at are the friends or family (who) are visiting on a weekly basis. Those are all opportunities for us to try to improve the screening process for people who enter into this secure facility.”
Horbach says while newer prisons make it easier for guards to keep their eyes on inmates, this drug incident at “The Fort” should not be cited as evidence that a new maximum security prison should be built. “We have contraband coming into our prisons whether they’re new or old,” Horbach says. “What we need to do immediately is focus on the process or the elimination of the contraband transfer inside the facilities whether it’s our newest prison up in Fort Dodge or our oldest prison over in Fort Madison.”
Neither Horbach nor Fraise has been briefed by prison officials about the apparent drug smuggling incident.