Iowa Addresses Prison Overcrowding

DES MOINES — Iowa prisons are overcrowded, but a construction program and coordination with the Board of Parole should reduce overcrowding, Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin told lawmakers Wednesday.
The prison population is 23 percent over capacity, Baldwin told the Transportation, Infrastructures and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee.
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. The DOC is working with the parole board to reduce the inmate population to match the number of prison beds available, he said.
All prisons are over capacity, ranging from 82 at Fort Dodge Correctional Facility to 413 at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Oakdale, Baldwin reported.
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.
Also, on any given day, Baldwin said, about 30,000 Iowans are in community-based corrections programs. In a year, the department supervises about 60,000 Iowans.
Baldwin said he was “troubled” by a nearly 24 percent increase since the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009 in the number of “critical incident reports” within Iowa’s prison system, with more than 250 incidents in the past three quarters. He 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.
“We are seeing more people who come to us with violence in their past,” he said. “Corrections is a balance, and it can’t get out of whack. We need to get back in balance.”
Baldwin said that current construction at prisons and community corrections facilities in the state will help alleviate crowding. The department will get an additional 170 to 200 beds for men when construction is completed at the Mitchellville women’s prison in May 2013 and prisoners are moved there from other facilities.
The highlight of the building plan is the replacement of the Fort Madison prison. “We’re so pleased to be moving out of a prison built 70 years before Iowa was a state,” Baldwin said.
The prison is increasingly costly to operate. Architects expect the cost to heat the new environmentally designed prison will be about 53 percent of the current $1.5 million annual cost. The new prison will house 350 more inmates.