More than 40-percent of Iowa’s prison population is classified as having "special needs", with either behavioral or mental health problems. Soon, most of those prisoners will be housed in a new unit at Oakdale, near Iowa City. The new facility’s deputy warden, Greg Ort, says special needs prisoners are currently held at units in Fort Madison and Clarinda.
Ort says the Oakdale unit will be the first stop for all prisoners, "As offenders come in to our reception center, if they’re identified with special needs, then we’ll house them at this unit and provide a better reception program and classification process than we have been able to with those offenders." Ort says the new unit will have a staff of nearly 290 full-time employees.
Ort says, "That includes correctional officers, correctional trade leaders, counselors, social workers, doctors, psychologists, LPN’s, support staff – it just requires a whole list of job classifications to run this new building." Ort says those employees will develop programs to help mentally-ill prisoners with re-entry into the community.
Ort says more than 95-percent of the prisoners are released back into the community, "We not only have to manage them while their in the prison and help them deal with mental health issues more successfully, but we also want to develop a re-entry plan for when they go back into the community." The new Special Needs Unit at Oakdale will have a budget next year of 54-million dollars. Ort hopes the facility will be ready to house inmates in late July or early August.