After sitting vacant for months due to construction delays, the new Iowa State Penitentiary is now up and running. The Iowa Department of Corrections transported 507 maximum security inmates on Saturday from the original prison to the new facility two miles north of Fort Madison.
"This is a historic day for the Department of Corrections and the State of Iowa," said DOC Director Jerry Bartruff. "There was a collaborative effort between the DOC and area law enforcement personnel. Together over 500 offenders were moved from the oldest operating facility west of the Mississippi (River) to the new state-of-art facility to ensure public safety."
On-site security was extremely tight during the transfer, which took about six hours to complete. ISP Spokeswoman Rebecca Bowker said "every offender was searched, put in restraints and placed on the bus." Three buses were running a loop, carrying up to 40 inmates at a time, between the two facilities. The buses were part of seven-vehicle convoys for security purposes. The preferred route throughout the morning was a gravel road that runs in front of the Iowa Prison Industries building.
Security was also tight off-prison property as law enforcement officers from multiple jurisdictions were stationed along the route so they could easily close off streets and highways as needed. There was even a no-fly zone in effect with two small airplanes constantly circling the transfer route.
The first inmates arrived at the new prison at about 6:45 a.m. and the last showed up at about 12:45 p.m.
Bowker said more than 200 people were involved in the move, including staff from ISP and five other Iowa prisons along with officers from the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Fort Madison Police Department, and the Iowa State Patrol.
"Our move was delayed a few times so we have been in preparation for this move for quite a while."
It's been nearly two years since state, regional, and local leaders attended a grand opening for the new prison. At the time, it was believed inmates would be transferred in the spring of 2014. Bowker said construction issues related to the geothermal heating system and the ventilation system did not allow that to happen.
"We have been working collaboratively with the State Fire Marshall's Office in order to get our permit to occupy," said Bowker. "We just recently received that permission this last week."
Not every inmate was part of the move according to Bowker.
"There's approximately 200 minimum-security offenders (who) will stay in what is now called the John Bennet unit, which was formerly the CCU," said Bowker. "These offenders will continue to stay to do their out-crew work. They wear the 'green shirts' and they do work with the city crews and other crews to help the cities do some of the labor that needs to be done."
As for the inmates who were moved to the new prison, Bowker said it will take some time for them to adjust. She said they will be on restricted movement, or confined to their cells, until prison staff determines the need is no longer present.
The inmates had already been on restricted movement due to the prison escape several weeks ago. That inmate, Justin Kestner, was captured in Illinois.
Nick Ludwick, ISP Warden, said he's grateful for everything that went into making the transfer a success.
"Working together, the team moved over 500 offenders in a safe, secure and professional manner within six hours. This historic day marks the closing of one facility as well as the opening the new institution. This is a major accomplishment considering the maximum security population involved."