By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — It won’t be empty anymore.
The “new” Ottumwa Residential Treatment Facility, a type of correctional facility, will be open and fully operational next year, reports Iowa Rep. Mary Gaskill. Last year, the building was up, but the Department of Corrections used their budget to maintain “current staffing levels,” meaning the empty prison facility stayed that way.
The structure’s staffing funds had been approved under a compromise plan agreed to by the Iowa House and Senate Thursday. Gaskill had been working with state and local leaders to provide adequate resources to open the facility. The agreement included an additional $687,000 for the Ottumwa district to open the facility.
"I'm pleased the bi-partisan agreement will open the Ottumwa facility next year and save taxpayers money," said Gaskill.
She told the Courier that programs like those planned for the Ottumwa Residential Treatment Facility are less expensive than housing a prisoner in a “regular” prison.
Besides, she said, why let it go to waste?
“It was a few years back that they built it, but then the state was hit with the recession. We built the building, and it’s setting there empty,” she said.
The Department of Corrections is going to need about nine employees at the place, so that means jobs for the area. But, said Gaskill, those who are going through the system are going to benefit, too, and society as a whole will also benefit.
"The new facility in Ottumwa will improve public safety and reduce the re-offense rate for low-risk offenders while keeping them productive members of the community,” she said. “It’s a step toward helping them become productive citizens and getting re-acclimated to living in society."
Gaskill said both Democrats and Republicans voted for the overall plan. She said she gives credit to Iowa Rep. Todd Taylor for keeping the small facilities in the bill.
The compromise bill was approved by both the House and Senate on Wednesday. Senate File 447 is the Justice Systems budget and includes funding for public safety and the Iowa Department of Corrections.
To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark