Iowa’s top prison official was in the hot seat at the statehouse Thursday, answering questions about the long-delayed opening of the new state prison in Fort Madison. Iowa Department of Corrections director John Baldwin said he’s “embarrassed” by the situation.
“This project is at least a year behind schedule,” Baldwin said.
Prisoners were to be transferred out of the 176-year-old maximum security facility in Fort Madison and into the new prison nearby last March, but it won’t be ’til sometime this summer, now, before prisoners move in. Prison guards and others who had been trained last year to work in the new, high-tech facility will be retrained.
“We cannot expect staff to go in there 15, 16, 18 months after we trained them,” Baldwin said.
Paying for the retraining and the cost of correcting problems with the new prison’s heating and ventilation systems has sidetracked Baldwin’s previous plan to boost staffing levels at the new prison. Problems persist with the new prison’s exhaust system and Baldwin couldn’t tell legislators whether the architects or contractors are to blame. Members of a budget committee quizzed Baldwin for more than an hour. The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation of its own and several members of that panel will tour the prison next Friday.