Operations at Luster Heights temporarily suspended in light of mandated FY17 budget cuts

Staff, residents being transferred to other facilities through June of this year; future depends on budget

The Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) has announced a plan to reduce its fiscal year 2017 budget by $5.5 million, and the Luster Heights prison camp facility in Allamakee County will be one of four DOC facilities feeling the direct impact of that reduction with what has been termed a "temporary suspension of operations". The budget reduction announcement was made Wednesday, February 8 by DOC Director Jerry Bartruff in a media release.

Bartruff indicated that the Luster Heights facility located near Harpers Ferry will be joined in suspension of operations by the Lodge Unit at Clarinda Correctional Facility, the John Bennett Unit at Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, and the Sheldon Residential Treatment Facility. Bartruff indicated that no prisons within the DOC will be closed, noting that the focus of the DOC in its reductions was in maintaining the safe and effective operations of the maximum security facilities felt to be in the best interest of public safety.

The cuts are reported to be in an effort to comply with Senate File 130, which was voted on in January and signed in to law by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad last week. The changes being made are expected to reduce DOC staff by three percent, with initial focus being on current unfilled positions and consideration of upcoming retirements.

Lettie Prell, DOC Director of Research in the Media and Public Relations Department, said the DOC is not putting a firm specific date on the final day of current operations for the Luster Heights facility, as that date is dependent upon transfer of current residents of the facility. She did indicate that as of Monday, February 13, there were 55 residents still housed within the facility and said that number had been at 70 when the announcement regarding suspension of operations was made last Wednesday.

Allamakee County officials have indicated that information they have received points to the suspension of operations at Luster Heights within the next two weeks, an estimation Prell would not confirm. In the wake of the announcement, staff at the Luster Heights complex has been advised to direct all questions or comment requests to the DOC main office in Des Moines.

Prell also indicated that some of the current residents at Luster Heights may be granted their release, while many will be transferred to other DOC facilities, perhaps closer to where they were expected to be released. "We are making thoughtful progress in regard to the transfer of these residents," she said.

She also indicated that the DOC has a daily "count sheet" listed on its website, www.doc.state.ia.us, under the Daily Statistics link in the navigation bar at far left on the homepage. Prell said those daily counts are taken "around midnight" before being updated on the website each day.

Prell also said there are 13 Department of Corrections staff members employed at Luster Heights and that all 13 will be given the opportunity to transfer to other DOC facilities. She was not able to indicate how many of those employees have taken that offer or where those opportunities may be.

Once operations are suspended, Prell said there will be no Iowa Department of Corrections employees available at the Luster Heights site, but indicated that with the facility's location in the Yellow River State Forest discussion is taking place with Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials in regard to monitoring the facility in the interim.

As far as the future of the Luster Heights facility, Prell said that suspension of operations will remain through the end of the current fiscal year, which is June 30 of this year. She said in the meantime, DOC officials will be working to assess the future of operations at Luster Heights and other DOC facilities based on what the budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 will allow.

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