A legislative study committee is backing nearly $240 million worth of construction in the state’s prison system. The plans include a new, maximum-security prison in Fort Madison as well as additional beds at the prison in Newton and the women’s prison in Mitchellville.

Representative Todd Taylor, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who co-chairs the legislative committee reviewing the issue, says he fears the state will face a lawsuit if the legislature doesn’t act to deal with prison overcrowding. "That is what’s happened in the past so, you know, I think this is the responsible choice for the legislature to adopt these recommendations so that we’re kind of in charge of that rather than it kind of being dictated to us by the courts," Taylor says.

Senator Jeff Angelo, a Republican from Creston sits on the legislative panel that reviewed the prison plan and he voted to recommend it to the full legislature, but Angelo questions whether the new "super-max" should be built in Fort Madison. "Our chair is from Fort Madison, so it’s not the most unbiased recommendation that’s ever been made by a committee," Angelo says.

Senator Gene Fraise, a Democrat from Fort Madison who is the committee’s other co-chairman, has made no secret of his desire to keep prison jobs in his hometown.

The full legislature will review the issue when it convenes in January. Officials say if lawmakers give the construction plan the go-ahead in 2008, the new space probably won’t be available until 2012 at the earliest.