ⓘ Iowa State Penitentiary. The Iowa State Penitentiary is an Iowa Department of Corrections maximum security prison for men located in the Lee County, Iowa commun ..


ⓘ Iowa State Penitentiary

The Iowa State Penitentiary is an Iowa Department of Corrections maximum security prison for men located in the Lee County, Iowa community of Fort Madison. ISP is part of a larger correctional complex. The ISP itself is a 550-person maximum security unit. Also on the complex is a John Bennett Correctional Center - a 169-person medium security unit. Two minimum security farms with about 170 people are located within a few miles of the main complex. The complex also has a ten-person multiple care unit, and a 120-bed special needs unit for prisoners with mental illness or other diseases that require special medical care. In total there are currently about 950 inmates and 510 staff members.

The prison offers adult basic, general, and special education services. The prison offers vocational training in upholstering, commercial cooking, automobile repair, printing, and machining. The prison also provides labor for two large farms, one crop and one livestock. For those with drug or alcohol problems a six-month substance abuse program is offered. Alcoholics Anonymous also operates at the complex.


1. History

The prison was established in 1839, one year after Iowa became a territory, and seven years before it became a state in 1846. ISP was patterned after the penitentiary in Auburn, New York. In 1982 the prison was remodeled, and unitization was introduced at ISP. The unitization divided the large cell blocks into smaller units that were easier to manage. In 2008 the prisons library was moved to another location on the grounds. The ISP library offers an extensive book collection, as well as computers for inmate use. However, prisoners do not have access to the Internet.

Before the abolition of capital punishment in Iowa, executions were performed at Fort Madison. An interesting note in the history of the prison was the execution of Victor Feguer. Feguer was a drifter who had murdered Dubuque doctor Edward Bartels. After appeals that even went as far as President John F. Kennedy were denied, Feguer was executed by hanging on March 15, 1963. Feguer was the last inmate in the Federal prison system to be put to death for nearly 40 years until the execution of Timothy McVeigh at the Terre Haute, Indiana Federal Prison in 2001. Feguer also became the last person in Iowa to be executed; soon after his death, Iowa abolished the death penalty. While Feguers death attracted little attention at the time, the execution of McVeigh attracted renewed interest in the Feguer execution.


1.1. History 1981 Riot

The 1981 riot was on September 2, and lasted from approximately 10:20 AM–9:25 PM.

Several inmates started the uprising by taking four hostages, among them Security Director James Mekne and Assistant Security Director Larry Moline, who were later released in exchange for the offenders being allowed to talk to the news media about prisoner grievances. In addition, eight newly hired employees at ISP were also taken hostage and forced to trade clothes with the offenders. Most were beaten. It was originally thought this incident was spontaneous although it was later reported it was the result of a plan conceived and executed by a handful of inmates. Inmates used a tractor to pull the door off Cellhouse 20. By the time the offenders had broken in, law enforcement personnel had cut the bars out of the cell house, removed the employees who had been hiding there and rewelded the bars back shut. A forklift from the Prison Industries facility was taken in an attempt to break into Cellhouse 17 West, which held protective custody inmates. No prisoners escaped.

Kenneth Sheffey, 21, was the original uprising spokesman. He was serving life in prison for the first-degree murder of Roddy Lee Hahn, 15. He made numerous demands, including getting to speak with selected members of the media to air some of the inmates grievances.

Three bloodied inmates were found locked in their cells Monday morning after the riot had been contained. It was thought at least one was a person other inmates didnt like very well. After the incident, they were taken to University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City. Up to 15 prisoners were actively involved in the uprising, but estimated that 60 of the 90 inmates in the cellblock were outside their cells when the assault teams burst in.

One inmate, Gary Eugene Tyson, was murdered. Other prisoners believed Tyson was talking to authorities investigating the May 1981 death of Allen Lewis, another inmate. It was because of this act that officials believed the riot had been started. Tysons body was found in a storage room attached to the prison kitchen. Tyson had been stabbed nine times in the neck, nine times in the left side of the chest, three times in the left side of the back, and once in the left hand. A makeshift knife was still protruding from Tysons neck. Evidence produced at trial would permit the jury to find the following facts: Tyson was a member of the prison gang known as the "Almighty Vice Lords." During the murder investigation of Lewis, a number of Vice Lords were placed in "segregation" locked status in Cellblock 20. Among them were Tyson and the undisputed leader of the gang, Allen Langely. Langley received two life sentences in connection with the slaying of Tyson and a life sentence for the May 1981 slaying of Lewis. He was charged with first-degree murder in both slayings.

Hal Farrier, Dept. of Corrections director at the time, ordered assault teams into the prison without consulting Gov. Terry Branstad as time was of the essence. The squads converged on the cellblock from all directions. Some inmates gave minor resistance. Some were armed with table legs and broken broom handles. Prison officials said there were 536 inmates in the 550-capacity prison when the uprising began.

The warden at the time of the riot was David Scurr. The deputy warden was Paul Hedgepeth.

More than $1 million in property damage was done.


1.2. History 2005 Escape And Prison Replacement

On November 14, 2005 two inmates were the first to escape from the facility since 1979. The two men, Robert Joseph Legendre and Martin Shane Moon used upholstery webbing to scale one of the prisons limestone walls. This webbing was used by the prison industries program to make furniture. Both Legendre and Moon were serving life sentences. Moon was convicted of murdering his roommate in 1990. Legendre is serving a life sentence for attempted murder, weapons, and drug charges. Legendre is serving time at the prison as part of a program between the states of Iowa and Nevada.

Following the escape the prison was locked down. The pair was believed to have stolen a 1995 gold Pontiac Bonneville with the license plate number 776-NOW. After escaping the pair split up.

On November 17, Moon was captured near Chester, Illinois. Authorities discovered him sleeping in a stolen vehicle near Menard State Prison. Around 3 A.M. law enforcement approached the car and asked Moon for his I.D. Moon instead started the vehicle and led police on a short chase. He later left the vehicle and tried to flee on foot, but was apprehended at that point. He waived extradition and was returned to the Fort Madison prison. The next day Legendre was captured in Caruthersville, Missouri. He has yet to be returned to Iowa, and remains in custody in Missouri.

The main reason the two inmates were able to escape was because the wall they scaled was unguarded - the nearest guard tower was unmanned due to low staff levels. Corrections officials have indicated that budget cuts had forced them to lower staffing levels. These escapes have already touched off a political debate in Iowa. Democratic state Senator Gene Fraise of Fort Madison suggested that the staffing levels were the primary reason the escapes were successful. Republicans have countered that advances in technology have allowed for prison resources to be redirected.

Former Governor Vilsack had an investigation undertaken into this incident. Several employees were disciplined in the wake of the escapes, and warden Ken Burger was replaced by John Ault - who had been warden at the Anamosa, Iowa prison. Vilsack also asked for recommendations on whether or not a new maximum security institution should be built - which he estimates could cost up to $40 million.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in Fort Madison on Thursday, April 22, 2010 for a new, 800 inmate prison to replace the Iowa State Penitentiary. Iowa Governor Chet Culver led the ceremony for the projected $130 million project which was scheduled to be completed in 2014. The new Iowa State Penitentiary was completed in 2014, though some problems kept the new facility from opening on schedule, inmates were transferred from the old facility to the new on August 1, 2015. As of August 2016, there continue to be concerns raised by AFSCME, the union representing Iowas state employees, about staffing levels at Iowas prisons; often after injuries of either prisoners and/or corrections officers become known to the public. However, Republican governor Terry Branstad and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives insist that staffing levels are adequate.

The state offered to transfer ownership of the penitentiary over to the city who initially planned to turn the prison into a museum sometime in 2014, in order to boost tourism to the city.

In May, 2017 the former prison was opened for a one time tour, with current and retired prison employees acting as guards. The prison is still owned by the state of Iowa, who pays about $1.000 a day to keep the lights on and the site secure. The city wants an environmental study to be done before prison ownership is transferred to a non profit.


2. Religious freedom of prisoners

In an MSNBC episode of Lockup: Raw, the prisons extensive religious programs were profiled. Iowa State Penitentiary allows inmates to participate in a wide range of religious observations, ranging from Buddhism and Wicca to Satanism. In the episode a group of inmates can be seen lighting candles and using a gong during a Satanic service, after which various aspects of the Satanic Bible are discussed on camera. During the filming, the prisons chaplain speaks of the importance of religious practice to the inmates daily lives.

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