About Us

Our Role Within the Iowa Department of Corrections

Iowa State Penitentiary is one of nine prisons in Iowa and serves as its only Maximum Security Facility. Its vision is to provide a safer community and work environment by having a positive impact on offender attitudes, values and skills.

The staff at ISP believe strongly in the mission of the Iowa Department of Corrections: Creating Opportunities for Safer Communities.

Both the mission and vision are accomplished by the focus on evidence based practices in Housing, programming and being a positive role model for the offenders we supervise.


A Brief History historical image

In January 1839, to ensure the safety of the citizens of the Iowa territory, the Territorial Legislature, meeting in Burlington, signed into law the edict to create a penitentiary along the Mississippi River while appropriating $20,000 for this purpose. This facility was to be of sufficient capacity to receive, secure, and employ 136 convicts and was to be built on ten acres donated by the citizens of Fort Madison. Iowa's first prison started out as a hole in the ground under the floor of the Warden's mansion. Seven of the first eleven prisoners escaped.

The construction of the first cellhouse, known as Cellhouse 17, was completed in October 1841 at a cost of $55,933. When Iowa became a state in 1846, the legislature appropriated money to enlarge the prison. Improvements, enlargements and additional construction continued through 1854 when Cellhouse 17 contained 144 cells. The original facility was a two story sandstone cell block intended to house only those offenders 31 years or older or those convicted of the most serious felonies. A third story was added in the 1870's. Additional buildings and cellhouses, as well as a large sandstone wall with regularly placed gun towers, were added as the inmate population grew.