Saturday, April 24, 2010

Iowa Breaks Ground on New Prison

Iowa Governor Chet Culver broke ground on a new $131 million maximum-security prison that will replace an Iowa State Penitentiary that has been a landmark since it was established as a territorial prison in 1839.

"This is a great day for the city of Fort Madison," said Mayor Steve Ireland. Governor Culver agreed, "This is another sign of progress in this state."

According to the Des Moines Register, support for the prison runs deep in Fort Madison a southeast Iowa community about 11,000 people. The penitentiary is a major employer, providing jobs for 464 people. The penitentiary's employment is expected to total about 525 people after the new facility opens in July 2013, which is what employment had been prior to the state's current budget troubles.

My Take

It appears that this project is as much about economic development as it is about building a better prison. In these difficult economic times building a prison to employ workers in a dusty little town seems short-sighted and politically expedient.

While the trend in some states is to close prisons, especially prisons built prior to the civil war, Iowa is replacing a prison. This is in spite of a budget shortfall that has the existing prison operating with fewer staff.

According to the Register, some lawmakers also sight the increased costs that could be associated with a new Fort Madison prison. Fort Madison is almost 90 miles from University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City, and it's costly to transport prisoners back and forth.

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