Branstad opens two new prisons in Iowa

DES MOINES – Gov. Terry Branstad is opening two new prisons in Iowa this week and is touting a recent decline in the number of people behind bars.

Branstad will attend a grand opening Wednesday for the new Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. On Monday, he was at a ribbon-cutting for the new Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville.

The new institutions – which cost a combined $217 million – are replacing older facilities and will be more efficient and make better use of technology, Branstad said. He noted that parts of the old Iowa State Penitentiary dates back to 1839, before Iowa became a state.

Both prison projects were started under the previous governor, Democrat Chet Culver. The old penitentiary houses about 604 inmates, who will be moved to the new facility early next year, said Iowa Department of Corrections spokesman Fred Scaletta. The old women’s prison has about 595 prisoners who will move later this year.

Branstad also said the state was making progress in reducing the prison population. There are now 8,230 inmates in the nine Iowa prisons. That’s down from 8,850 when Branstad took office in 2011. Branstad attributed some of the decline to better programs for ex-offenders to prevent their return to prison.

“I give a lot of credit to the parole board. They’ve modernized the system. They’ve now computerized it. They now have a system to predict whether or not an individual is likely to recidivate, to commit another crime,” Branstad said.

Lettie Prell, director of research for the Department of Corrections, said the recidivism rate has dropped in recent years. Of those leaving prison during the 2009 fiscal year, 30.8 percent returned within three years. That’s down from 33.9 percent for those who exited prison in the 2004 fiscal year. Prell said several new programs that provide support for black ex-offenders had helped bring the number down.