On April 23, 1872, the Fourteenth General Assembly appointed William Ure, Foster L. Downing, and Martin Heisey as a Board of Commissioners to locate and provide for the erection of an additional penitentiary. The Board met on June 4, 1872 at Anamosa, Jones County, Iowa and selected a site within the corporate limits of the city. Fifteen acres were donated by the citizens of Anamosa to the State of Iowa. Also donated were 61 acres "of good pastureland" close to the area. Among the other reasons for its selection, three nearby quarries were sufficient for all state demands for high quality limestone for public buildings.
L. W. Foster and Company, architects from Des Moines, furnished the plans. Work commenced on September 28, 1872. On May 13, 1873, 20 convicts were transferred to the Anamosa Branch of the Fort Madison Penitentiary. About 12 acres had been enclosed with a board fence 16 feet high. The whole structure could accommodate 60 convicts.
During this time (about 1874) convict labor was let out to contractors for a term of ten years, $.403 per day per convict paid to the state, who in turn furnished shops, tools, machinery, and supervision necessary for the preservation of the prison's order and discipline. This had its disadvantages, primarily the competition of labor at reduced prices against honest citizens' labor. Laws were passed prohibiting outside industries from using inmate labor. This change in the law brought about a need in the institution to provide occupations to convicts. The Board of Control then authorized the creation of Iowa State Industries with limited markets -- tax-supported institutions and agencies. Earlier industries included a cooper shop (making and repairing barrels) and a garment shop. Under Warden W. A. Hunter, who served from 1898 to 1906, Living Unit 'C', (South House, the cellhouse south of the Administration Building) was erected in 1880. The school, which had fallen into a state of decline, was reorganized around 1898.
In 1886 the building for the criminally insane was completed, and the walls were erected around the insane and female departments with no opening to each other. One female was incarcerated and only a total of 15 females from Iowa were imprisoned at Anamosa prior to 1917. Living unit "A" (North House, the cellhouse north of the Administration Building) was erected in 1889 and was completed in 1902.
Starting in 1900, the Grade System or a designation of different privilege levels was employed. The prisoners were divided into first, second, and third grades. One and two grades were clothed in respectable gray, instead of stripes, and ate in the dining hall. Third grade prisoners ate in their cells. Conduct controlled the level of grade the prisoner was in and aided much in maintaining discipline.
During the period between 1892 and 1893, under Warden P. W. Madden, the institution really started to take shape. The water works were put in; the foundations, part of the wall for the Administration Building was laid; and cement foundations for the north cellhouse, chapel, library buildings all were connected. The female department, administration dining room, chapel, and library were completed, although the library was destroyed by fire in 1896. A 1907 by-law changed the institution from a penitentiary to a reformatory for first offenders who were 16 to 30 years old.
A separate institution for women was constructed at Rockwell City in 1918. The cellblock that housed the women was vacant for a short time until the State approved a plan to take Federal women prisoners, this brought the State one dollar per day per inmate. This practice lasted only three years. From then until 1963, the school area was used for storage.
During the depression years, the inmate population increased to a then all-time high of 1,489 (February 1933). When World War II came, the inmate population decreased to approximately 400 men. The decision to end work in the quarries came at that time. The institution was pretty well completed by then and the competition of privately owned quarries (plus the fact that inmate labor was decreasing) were reasons for the decision.
Living Unit "B" (New House, forming part of the south wall of the institution) was built in 1936; also included in the building was the old hospital. From 1936 to 1969, the criminally insane for the entire state were housed in the Reformatory. By an act of the 62nd General Assembly, the criminally insane department was moved to Oakdale, Iowa. It is now known as the Iowa Medical and Classification center and receives male inmates for evaluations from the courts and from correctional facilities (as well as being the reception center for Iowa).
During the tenure of C. H. Haugh (1964 - 1973), who was employed after a series of disturbances at the institution, a progressive correctional philosophy became a regular part of the programs. The number of inmates averaged 440 with 260 full-time staff. The "team approach" with a behavior modification orientation became the central theme with emphasis on inmate responsibility. Inmates were permitted to wear personal clothing and identification on clothing with name and number was discontinued, greater variety of personal clothing was permitted, a formalized grievance procedure was initiated, and inmate organizations (Jaycees, Phoenix, Check Writers Association, Indian Culture, Black Culture) were permitted. In addition, the Level Incentive Program was initiated whereby inmates who demonstrated responsible conduct and were significantly involved in programs were "rewarded" by movement to a higher level of privileges and lesser degrees of supervision. In 1967, the work release law was passed, providing a transitional period for the public offender in his return to the community.
In 1968 Living Unit A (North House) was condemned and only the New (Cellhouse 1) and South (Cellhouse 2) Houses were used. On February 1, 1978 after a complete renovation, using only the original walls of the North Cellhouse, the institution opened a new Infirmary, Social Services/Clinical Services, Visiting Room, Central Records, and Vocational Rehabilitation offices, where the old cellhouse once stood.
Warden Calvin Auger was appointed Warden in October of 1973. By November of 1975, the number of inmates rose to an average of 738, including 24 men housed at the Luster Heights Conservation Camp at Harpers Ferry. With the opening of the John Bennett Correctional Center at Ft. Madison, Luster Heights closed in September of 1978.
In June of 1980, the three lower floors of the old hospital building were remodeled and a new Housing Unit H (Level Five) was opened. The Reformatory population continued to rise and remodeling of Living Unit North for 57 new inmates was completed, replacing the Cellhouse A (North House), in September of 1980. In July of 1982, the Men's Reformatory was designated the Reception Center for the State of Iowa. This meant that all new admits under the Department of Corrections would enter this institution. It remained the Reception Center until the completion of the expansion project of IMCC in September of 1984.
In July of 1982, the Legislature established a population cap for the Department of Corrections of 2,650 inmates and a population limit for the Reformatory of 840, its single cell capacity in 1984. During this time, a statewide classification program was created and the Reformatory reception function was shifted to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center, formerly ISMF, Oakdale. The Luster Heights Camp was increased to 54 beds in October of 1984.
Late in 1983, construction was completed on a new metal furniture manufacturing building. It replaced the old furniture building that had been built in 1902 and was the oldest shop in the institution. In preparation for this project, inmate labor was utilized for demolition of a tunnel, one small building and complete excavation of a substantial part of the main yard inside the institution. The new building is made of tilt-up concrete construction. Yards of concrete, at a cost of $170,000, were used in the 8,400 square foot building. Inmates did all the work while maintenance foremen provided the supervision for all the concrete, plumbing, heating, and electrical projects. Construction costs were supplied by Iowa State Industries.
Warden Auger passed away November 11, 1987. John A. Thalacker was appointed and took over duties as Warden on March 1, 1988. In September of 1995, Warden Thalacker was reassigned to the North Central Correctional Facility. Warden John Ault who had been assigned to the North Central Correctional Facility for the previous nine years was reassigned to IMR. Population increases in recent years have made it necessary once again to utilize small cells in the school building, to double-bunk in LUB and LUD-3, and provide some multiple living space on three floors of Unit D.
In December of 1993 the Department of Corrections designated the Iowa Men' s Reformatory as a "maximum" institution, in addition to a “medium" and "minimum. " On February 18, 1994, the highest count since 1933 was reached when 1,374 inmates were housed inside and 81 at Luster Heights for a total of 1,455 ---- 541 over capacity. In October of 1994 the average age of an inmate was 30 and the population for that month was 1,402 (including approximately 77 at Luster Heights).
In 1994 there were 401 full-time staff members in correctional, treatment, medical, education, industries, maintenance and administration. The institution has a total of 1,465 acres, 13 of which are inside the walls. The farm land is farmed by Iowa Prison Industries. The institution has a large garden to supplement food purchases.
At present, there are nine Industries shops: farm operations, license plates (metal stamping), graphic arts, custom wood, cleaning products, braille shop, metal furniture, auto body, and sign. These industries plus maintenance crews, dietary, laundry, and other service areas provide daily tasks for inmates. The Education Department through Kirkwood Community College is on contract with the institution to maintain classes from primary level to second-year college level.
Further expansions in facilities and programs to meet the needs of a growing number of public offenders received is anticipated. The continued use of community-based programs (such as work release) will be given greater emphasis.
The basic philosophy of providing opportunities for personal developmental accountability operates at the same time as the legal mandate of the protection of society. In recent years, a greater distinction has been made in release planning with inmates who have committed property crimes as compared to crimes against persons. The staff recognize the need to provide program opportunities in a constructive environment that motivates the inmate to demonstrate performance.