Days numbered for inmates at old Iowa State Penitentiary

Prisoners at the old Iowa State Penitentiary

In a matter of months, more than 600 inmates at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison will transfer to a new location.

The old prison dates back to 1839, even before Iowa was an official state. From its fortress walls to its rumored hauntings, the Iowa Department of Corrections felt it was time to shutter the prison and build a new one.

"We run a transparent operation, so short of telling them the actual day we're going to move, we've shared as much of the information with them as we're comfortable with. The reason behind this is, it makes the transition easier for everybody," Warden Nick Ludwick said.

Warden Ludwick says it'll be a nice change working in a place that doesn't resemble the Shawshank Redemption prison.

"We'll manage the same number of offenders initially as we do here," Ludwick said.

Come 2014, more than 600 inmates will transfer to the new prison just a couple miles down the road. In time, the new facility will hold up to 800 inmates.

"The primary difference is in the design," Ludwick said. "Many of our offenders will see...that here, their view is the sky. The walls, like a fort, protect the public and keep people inside. The view at the new institution is fenced, which is indicative of modern builds. You don't see fortresses built like this anymore."

The new prison will include enhanced video surveillance, with more than 300 cameras on site.

"Virtually anything and everything that occurs within the institution will be monitored," Ludwick said.

Additional manpower and perimeter vehicles will also patrol the borders protected by electronic intrusion devices.

"So the actual plan itself enhances security where some might think it's doing just the opposite," Ludwick said.

With these changes come some concern from the current inmates.

"One of the primary differences is one of the four new housing units is a double bunk housing unit. That has set many of our offenders into somewhat of a tizzy, where they're concerned that they might actually have to share a room with another offender. This is not new on a national basis and it's not new at our agency. It just happens to be new for the offenders housed at this institution," Ludwick said.

Ludwick says its best when he can keep their minds off the move with busy schedules. The better behaved get the chance at employment in the prison, from construction and gardening to kitchen staff and tourism.

The new maximum security prison is a $130 million project that began in April of 2010.