Closing this prison doesn't add up

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 13 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 12:38 pm in
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The Gazette Editorial Board

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Some state leaders have been trying to shut down Luster Heights Prison Camp for a decade. And now the governor’s proposed budget again has the Allamakee County facility up for closure.

It’s part of cost-saving efforts, moving money to other prisons in the state system. Laudable. But closing this correctional facility looks counterproductive.

Consider what The Gazette recently reported about the 88-bed, minimum-security prison:

l Inmates get to Luster Heights because they’ve earned it through positive behavior in higher-security prisons.

l Despite no fence or security guards, there have not been any walk-offs in the last eight years.

l The annual cost to keep an inmate at Luster Heights is under $20,000, while the statewide average is more than $30,000 — a difference of about $800,000 per year.

l Some of the savings is because of self-sufficiency practices. For example, wood cut by the inmates provides 95 percent of the facility’s heat. Produce raised helps hold down the food bills.

l Inmate labor helps the county’s conservation and roads departments, as well as the city of Waukon, save tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

l Inmates also assist state foresters with planting replacement trees and maintaining trails in the nearby Yellow River State Forest.

l Most noteworthy: 85 percent of the inmates participate in drug treatment. Once released, 22.7 percent reoffend and return to prison within three years; the statewide rate is 31.8 percent.

Gosh — treatment and work experience that helps offenders be more likely to succeed when re-entering society, all at a lower cost to the state while also assisting local governments. Does it really make sense to “save” the state’s annual appropriation of $1.6 million for Luster Heights? Isn’t the real savings already happening?

Are we missing something here? Or is the governor’s office?

l Comments: editorial@sourcemedia.net or (319) 398-8262

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