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Fort Madison unveils new Iowa State Penitentiary

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This is a new era for Iowa prisons.

"The biggest thing is the change from an 1839 facility to a 2014 facility," said Deputy Warden Mark Roberts.

It's a first look inside the $130-million project. The Iowa State Penitentiary is nearly ready to open in Fort Madison. Some 800 inmates will transfer there in March 2014.

"The taxpayers of Iowa have certainly gotten their money's worth out of the Iowa State Penitentiary," said Warden Nick Ludwick. "It's time to move."

The three-year construction process delivered a spacious and secure complex. Hundreds of security cameras will watch over the population. A watch tower is a focal point for safety.

"There's actual eyes on every entrance and every door," said Rebecca Bowker, Iowa Department of Corrections. "We're able to see and have good lines of sight."

While parts of the old prison date back to the 1800's, this new facility is also built to last. It's a testament to technology and design.

Iowa's toughest criminals will call one of the units home.Some will stay in these cells for decades. Others will remain for the rest of their lives.

Another unit is designed for the elderly. There's also a unit for the mentally ill.

One unit will be a complete departure from the old prison. It will house 256 inmates who are double bunked.

"I hope the things that we're learning moving into this, and the things that we've learned in the process of making it happen really go a long way toward moving corrections forward," Roberts said.

Despite the obvious restrictions, this prison will become a community. A central kitchen will prepare nearly 3,000 meals daily. They'll deliver food to two dining halls through a small slot. This blind serving area should prevent additional conflicts.

"What it really speaks to is the pride we have in the job that we do," Warden Ludwick concluded. "We know it's our job to protect the public."

Described as safe, secure and solid, this new era for Iowa prisons is about to begin.