Iowa State Penitentiary

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Coordinates: 40°37′57″N 91°17′50″W / 40.63250°N 91.29722°W / 40.63250; -91.29722

The Iowa State Penitentiary (ISP) 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.


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 Feguer's death attracted little attention at the time, the execution of McVeigh attracted renewed interest in the Feguer execution.

1981 Riot[edit]

September 2, 1981 at approximately 10:20 AM, a riot erupted with the taking of 12 prisoners and the murder/execution of another inmate. Nearly all the hostages were new correctional officers. The warden at the time was David Scurr. The riot resolved the day it started after inmates took some construction equipment and rammed into the protective custody cellblock, which is where later the murdered inmate was found. An RN was also raped, but that appeared to be related to the chaos and not the goal of those rioting. It was reported at the time that the inmate who was murdered, having his throat slashed, had turned state's evidence on the inmate who created the uprising after that inmate, serving a life sentence, had shanked someone at the prison who later died. There was looting and fires set and general destruction. The riot resolved and officers re-took the prison an hour after the bulldozer was run into the ad-seg portion of the prison, where the murdered inmate was housed.[1] The time it returned to the control of the officers was 9:40PM the same day it started. All the hostages were released.,7021251&hl=en

2005 Escape And Prison Replacement[edit]

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 prison's 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 is scheduled to be completed in 2014. The new Iowa State Penitentiary was completed in 2014, though some problems kept the new facility[2] from opening on schedule, inmates were transferred from the old facility to the new on August 1, 2015.[3]

The state has offered to transfer ownership of the penitentiary over to the city who has plans to turn the prison into a museum sometime in 2014, in order to boost tourism to the city.[4]

Religious freedom of prisoners[edit]

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 prison's chaplain speaks of the importance of religious practice to the inmates daily lives.

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