Iowa prison population on the upswing

DES MOINES – The occupancy rate at Iowa’s nine prisons ended the fiscal year higher on June 30, following declining inmate populations dating back to fiscal 2007, state officials said Tuesday.

The Iowa Department of Corrections ended the fiscal year on June 30 with 8,608 inmates incarcerated at institutions in Anamosa, Clarinda, Fort Dodge, Mitchellville, Oakdale, Fort Madison, Mount Pleasant, Newton and Rockwell City, according to agency director John Baldwin. That compared to an institutionalized population of 8,453 offenders one year earlier.

The uptick of 155 offenders came in a year that saw the lowest number of prison admissions (5,130) in 10 years and the smallest number of releases (4,975) since fiscal 2002. A major factor in last year’s increase was a 203 jump in total new court commitments – mostly in during the six-month period from January through June, which offset declines in parole revocations and other areas.

“New court commitments are driving the count,” said Baldwin. “They were trending down.”

Paul Stageberg, administrator of the state Department of Human Rights’ division of criminal and juvenile justice planning, which tracks prison and other data, said he was awaiting more-detailed analysis of the fiscal 2010 to get a better sense of why new court commitments returned to levels not seen for nearly three years. He said he did not think the rise was related to economic factors in Iowa or nationally.

“The change that we saw during the year, with a drop in the first half of the fiscal year and then a rise during the second half, is pretty significant with what we predicted a year ago. So it wasn’t a surprise,” said Paul Stageberg, administrator of the state Department of Human Rights’ division of criminal and juvenile justice planning. “That said, it’s still a little bit worrisome.”

There were 83 fewer paroles granted in fiscal 2010 compared to previous year’s 1,038 while the number of inmates placed on work release increased by 156 and a total of 135 offenders were discharged after completing their sentences, Baldwin said.

Tuesday’s prison count had dipped to 8,570 inmates, which was about 16 percent above the capacities of institutions designed to house 7,414 offenders. The overall population included 709 women.

The latest figures come as corrections officials prepare to break ground Thursday on a new $67 million project at Mitchellville that will revamp the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women and locate all female inmates at the central Iowa location while adding about 300 beds to the prison’s current 443-bed design capacity, Baldwin said. The new construction will free up about 100 beds for male inmates at the Mount Pleasant prison and up to 80 beds at the Oakdale intake center when the project is completed in December 2013, he said.

In the meantime, Baldwin said department officials are in the process of hiring and training new employees to fill vacancies created in critical positions by the recently completed early retirement incentive program. He said nearly 50 correctional officers and three nurses moved through the agency’s learning center in the past few weeks.

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Fiscal year    Ending Prison Population     Admissions     Releases

2010              8,608                                       5,130               4,975

2009              8,455                                       5,485               5,770

2008              8,740                                       5,741               5,807

2007              8,806                                       5,978               5,831

2006              8,659                                       6,408               6,327

2005              8,578                                       6,340               6,373

2004              8,611                                       6,121               5,905

2003              8,395                                       6,252               6,029

2002              8,172                                       5,542               5,471

2001              8,101                                       5,249               4,794Source: Iowa Department of Corrections