Save for education, no other state institution is studied more than the Iowa corrections system. Statistics are kept and studies are made on everything from the offenders' race, crime, drug use, and mental health. The state tracks the rate of recidivism and compares length of sentences today to the average stays from previous decades. And the state plots trends to determine the future needs for treatment programs and also prison bed space.
Today longer mandatory minimum prison terms are being served as offenders continue to enter the system. A study by the Iowa Department of Human Rights projects Iowa's prison population will increase from over 8,800 today to more than 9,700 by 2017.
There are efforts to place offenders in community-based corrections instead of prisons. However, the community based residential facilities are full and have a waiting list of over 800.
Nearly 1500 offenders live in one of 22 residential centers like this one in Ames. This center has 45 beds for men and women. Most live here for an average of 3 to 4 months -- either sentenced directly by a court or on parole from prison to serve in a work release program before re-entering mainstream society.
Bill Fliehler, Residential Manager, Curt Forbes Center, Ames: "We served, just with a 45 bed facility, approximately 175 clients a year. So those are clients that if a facility like this didn't exist, more than likely be in prison."
Life here isn't always a game of cards. Offenders are expected to find a job and "deal" with their "issues" -- which Residential Manager Bill Fliehler says can range from anger management to substance abuse to mental illness.
Fliehler: "Of the offenders that we do serve here, approximately 80 percent have substance, alcohol or drug problem, and that's a big issue. And we're seeing more mental illness up here, too."
Fliehler says it is most difficult to find treatment for offenders with a mental illness, because mental health services are not offered within the community corrections system and such are difficult to access in every community.
Fliehler: "We didn't see the criminal justice system involve itself years ago with mentally ill persons but because that treatment has gone away in the community, they, they've fallen through the cracks and once a mentally ill person involves themselves in the corrections system it just seems to spiral on them and they get, goes deeper and deeper for them. And many of them really don't need to be locked up if we could find adequate treatment for them in the community."
Governor Chet Culver just may agree, offering his support of treatment programs during Tuesday's Condition of the State Address to the legislature.
Governor Chet Culver, Condition of the State Address, January 15, 2008: "In an effort to significantly reduce recidivism, we will invest more than ever before in substance abuse and mental health treatment."
Mike Graham, parolee, Ames: "In the long run, I've been through ten treatments."
Back at the correctional facility in Ames, resident Mike Graham notes that treatment programs don't always work.
Graham: "They sent me to treatment at a halfway house. Then I went to prison cuz I couldn't stay clean. I've been in Anamosa, Rockwell, Mount Pleasant, the whole tour of Iowa."
Graham has been in and out of the Iowa corrections system for 15 years. While he isn't exactly a Department of Corrections "poster child" for success … he does say -- that at the age of 38 -- he thinks he will make it on the outside this time.
Graham: "I'm getting one-on-one counseling which keeps me in balance with what I need to do. But you know I'd like to go to school, how do I go to school? I get paid $7.50 an hour."
Graham is inching his way back into society. He was released from this Ames residence on January 10. He is on parole until April, and then he will be free to make his own choices.
His move-out opened up one bed for one of the more than 800 offenders waiting to get in.