Luster Heights Counselors Push to Keep Prison Camp Open

by Katie Wiedemann, Reporter

HARPERS FERRY, Iowa - In January Governor Branstad announced plans to slash Luster Heights Correctional Center's 1.6 million dollar budget. It's an effort to save the state money. But it would mean closing that center and cutting 15 jobs. The minimum security state prison sits along the Mississippi River in rural Allamakee County. It houses low risk offenders from across the state.

Nestled within the Yellow River State Forest, inmates at Luster Heights take advantage of their down time. They are allowed to lift weights, shoot pool and playing cards.

Correctional Counselor Kris Kovarik said, "We are in an environment that is different than any other facility in the state of Iowa."

In the summer camp-like setting, there are no fences. No walls. Instead there is trust.

Kovarik said, "They are here knowing that they're going to be going home soon and that they are trusted to stay here. "

Each inmate is serving the last 6 to 12 months of his sentence. Many are doing time for drug related convictions.

While at Luster Heights, they're enrolled in intense drug counseling and each inmate has a full-time job.

Correctional Security Manager Kevin Hagemann said, "The inmates go out into the community to work. The towns come get them in the morning and bring them back in the evenings."

City leaders in both Allamakee and Clayton Counties hire the inmates to do some of the work the cities don't have time for.

City of McGregor Waste Water Treatment Plant Director Nathan Hird said, "I don't think you can replace them for five dollars per day. We get a lot of work out of them for the amount of money spent. "

That's one of the reasons counselors are pushing to keep Luster Heights alive.

Kovarik said, "If an individual is released from a minimum security setting, their chances of being successful are much greater than if they were released from a medium or maximum security prison, definitely. "

And that's a risk counselors say the state shouldn't be willing to take.
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