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Iowa Inmates Expected To Finish Building Two Houses By Year's End

newton prison painting
Katarina Sostaric
Joshua Goemaat paints the ceiling of a classroom building for participants in the home building program at the Newton Correctional Facility Tuesday, May 28, 2019.

Inmates at the state prison in Newton are expected to finish building the first two houses in a new construction program by the end of the year, while a new website has launched to display their work.

The Homes For Iowa program that started earlier this year is aimed at filling Iowa’s workforce and affordable housing shortages, while giving inmates skills that may help them get a job when they leave prison.

“There’s lots of things we’re learning, and struggles, but it’s going forward,” Iowa Prison Industries Director Dan Clark said. “And it’s very exciting to see the progress on the houses, the progress in the men.”

Clark said the first completed houses will likely be delivered to Jefferson and Perry, with one kept at the work site near the minimum-security Newton Correctional Release Center to serve as a model home. 

About eight men are currently working on the houses with four supervisors. In 2020, Clark said his goal is to have more inmates participate and complete 18 houses.

“It’s really going to hit high gear now,” Clark said. “We’re going to be bringing more men into the program and rolling out new apprenticeships. And I would say it’s really got everybody very excited because it is starting to come to fruition.”

He said a new one-year general construction apprenticeship program will start up in January in a partnership with Des Moines Area Community College. That’s in addition to traditional four-year apprenticeships that inmates can start through the house building program.

Iowa Prison Industries pays inmates about a dollar per hour for this work, so the price for a completed house with delivery is $75,000. Clark said adding the cost of getting a lot and basement ready will bring the cost to about $125,000 for a new three-bedroom house.

A nonprofit called Homes For Iowa, which recently got 501(c)(3) status, works with other organizations like Habitat for Humanity to make decisions about the placement of houses and income qualification guidelines for affordable housing.

Homes For Iowa will seek private donations to help expand the program, which the Department of Corrections and Iowa Prison Industries started without designated state funds. Gov. Kim Reynolds had asked lawmakers in 2018 for some state funding to launch the home building program, but lawmakers declined to provide it. Clark said it will move forward without specific state funding.

The state is also working on a plan for building a fence and installing security cameras around the construction site, which would eventually allow men from the medium-security prison at Newton to also participate.

Note: This story was corrected to state that inmates are paid about a dollar per hour, not a dollar per day. 

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter