Sunday, February 27, 2011

Iowa's Prison Crowding Problem: Build More Prisons

Iowa Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin recently told lawmakers on the Transportation, Infrastructures and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee he was “troubled” by a nearly 24 percent increase in the number of “critical incident reports” within Iowa’s prison system, with more than 250 incidents in the past three quarters, according to

Baldwin said the number of incidents involving assaults and physical altercations increased by 62 percent since mid-2009 — including 107 in the first half of the current fiscal year.

Why the increase in prison violence? The prison population is 23 percent over capacity.
Iowa’s nine prisons have a capacity of 7,209 but currently house 8,883 inmates, Baldwin said, an increase from 8,200 a year ago. All of Iowa's prisons are over capacity, ranging from 82 at Fort Dodge Correctional Facility to 413 at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Oakdale,according to

The average age of inmates is 35 years and about 7,300 are serving their first or second sentence. A total of 63 have been committed to a prison at least five times and two had nine or more sentences, according to the department of corrections.

Baldwin reported that there are about 30,000 Iowans in community-based corrections programs, half-way houses based in the community and the department supervises about 60,000 Iowans who are parole or probation, according to

The prison expansion comes as the gap between state spending and revenue has skyrocketed in Iowa. In FY2009, the spending gap was $400 million, which increased to $800 million in FY2010. The office of fiscal services is now estimating a $1.1billion spending gap for FY2011, according to State Representative Kent Sorensen.

Iowa, even in these difficult economic times, is trying to build its way out of prison overcrowding. The state has construction underway to expand prison space. New prison space not only costs taxpayers in terms of construction, but also in prisoner housing expenses and personnel costs.

With many states looking to close prisons or canceling prison construction it is surprising to see Iowa going in the opposite direction.

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