Although not as old as the Fort Madison Penitentiary, the Penitentiary has a long and interesting history, dating back over 130 years. No other institution has had such a varied role in Iowa corrections.
First a penitentiary, it was, like most early institutions, built by the inmates who were sentenced there. The Insane Ward led to placement of the mentally ill patients at Anamosa, which eventually evolved into the formation of the Iowa Security Medical Facility, which later moved to Oakdale in 1969.
Designated a Reformatory in 1907, the emphasis was on younger offenders. Both penitentiaries initially housed women, but eventually all were housed at the "Female Department" at Anamosa until the Women's Reformatory was established in 1918. Even after that time, Anamosa housed women Federal prisoners.
Anamosa inmates initially farmed the State Farm at Clive, a facility that closed at the time of the formation of the Newton Release Center. In 1945 the Eldora Annex was opened, housing 85 of the most incorrigible juveniles from the training school, a move prompted by a riot at Eldora that required the National Guard to quell.
During the '60s and '70s, with an increased emphasis on community corrections, the then-Reformatory was instrumental in the development of community programs, starting the first work release half-way houses in Iowa City and Waterloo, as well as providing the initiative for work release houses in other eastern Iowa communities.
The first Reception Center opened at Anamosa in 1981, receiving and processing all admissions to the Iowa prison system with almost no additional staffing, until the opening of the Reception Center at Oakdale in 1983.
In 1997 the Iowa State Legislature, acknowledging the changing nature of Anamosa's prison population, officially renamed the prison to its current name, the Anamosa State Penitentiary.
In recent years, the facility has withstood serious overcrowding, while the population has become older with longer prison records. It continues to be the largest correctional facility in the state, with the lowest cost per inmate and the highest inmate staff ratio. Major construction continuous to be accomplished with inmate labor, much as it has been for over 100 years. As ASP continues to meet challenges and its ever changing role, its history will continue to be a tribute to the accomplishments of many people, often during difficult times. This collection of historical information is intended to document some of that past, before it is lost forever.