Iowa announces $68M women's prison expansion


The state of Iowa will soon have a new state of the art prison for women.

A groundbreaking ceremony took place in Mitchelville Thursday for the new $68 million facility.

Behind the barbed wire fence at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, 565 females are crowded into a facility with 445 beds. More bunk beds had to be squeezed in to house more inmates.

"Very crowded, four beds in a small room with a toilet," said former inmate Deb Green.

"This was not a prison, built as a reform school. It's dark. The new environment will be positive," said Patti Wachtendorf, warden of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women.

One of the older buildings in the complex has a crumbling brick exterior and had to be closed after it was condemned.

Thursday, the shovels came out to break ground on a new compound twice the size of the current facility. Four new buildings will be constructed and six will be renovated as part of the state's I-JOBS program.

"We're moving forward creating 550 jobs, temporary and permanent, on this project," said Iowa Gov. Chet Culver.

The project will be paid for with revenues from gaming.

Officials said their goal remains the same: to turn lives around.

"Forty percent of the women who come in have mental illness," said John Baldwin, director of corrections. He said the new project includes a new mental health building with more treatment programs.

"These women are coming back into the community as your neighbors, servers in restaurants, and we want them to leave better than when they came in," said Wachtendorf.

The project is expected to take three years to complete, with a target opening date of January 2013.

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