The Des Moines Register offers an inside look at the state prison in Oakdale, which handles mentally ill inmates among others. “Hey, War-den!” shouts one inmate to Deputy Warden Greg Ort. The inmate hops up and down, snapping his fingers at Ort. He’s wearing a heavy black smock, which bounces as he hops. Inmates on suicide watch wear heavy smocks because they can’t rip them and use them to hang themselves. Suicide is a serious concern: The prison’s most recent suicide was three months ago.
There are inmates who Have serious mental illnesses and are on constant suicide watch, who enjoy violence and causing havoc, and who are chronically ill, showing signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Oakdale spends more for each of its 900 inmates than any of the nine Iowa prisons. Last year, the average cost per inmate in Iowa prisons was $86.35 a day, or more than $31,500 a year. At Oakdale, the daily cost is $162.47 a day, nearly $60,000 a year. “Twenty percent of the people here tend to take more resources than you’d ever thought about,” said Dr. Harbans Deol, director of medical services for the corrections department. “The other 80 percent just do fine.”