Democrats in the Iowa Senate have voted to set aside enough money to keep two prison facilities open that are targeted for closure. In 2002 the state opened a $26-million facility in the Fort Madison prison to care for mentally ill inmates.
Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, says a recent upgrade means the facility could operate for another 30 years. “The money’s there to keep the Clinical Care Unit open, but the governor has every right to line item veto that out,” Courtney says.
Governor Branstad proposes closing the unit and transferring most of the 180 mentally ill prisoners to state prisons in Clarinda and Oakdale. There will be 20 beds for mentally ill prisoners in the not-yet-opened Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. The other prison facility Democrats in the Senate would like to keep operating is the Luster Heights Correctional Facility which sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.
“Luster Heights is a nice little facility, up almost to Minnesota,” Courtney says. “It’s a really low security facility…These guys go in and out of there and they’ve got a really low recidivism rate, so why we’re closing that is beyond me.” Most of the prisoners at Luster Heights are parole violators or men who’ve been serving time in the Anamosa State Prison and are nearing the end of their sentence.
Senators say the offenders have jobs that help the state cover the costs of their incarceration and the work helps prepare the men for life outside of prison. The Luster Heights facility was slated for closure in a 2010 government efficiency plan, but legislators voted to keep it open and Chet Culver, who was governor at the time, agreed.