Lawmakers ask governor to reconsider mental health unit closing

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad

Six southeast Iowa lawmakers are asking Gov. Terry Branstad to reverse his decision to close a mental health care unit at the state penitentiary in Fort Madison.

In a letter sent to the governor Wednesday, one Republican and five Democratic lawmakers say closing the 10-year-old unit will be detrimental to inmates with mental health needs.

Branstad's budget proposal announced in February calls for closure of the $26 million, 200-bed facility in 2014. Prisoners would be transferred to prison medical units in Clarinda and Coralville and the new state penitentiary in Fort Madison.

State budget director Dave Roederer says closing the unit saves the state $8 million in annual operations costs.

Signing the letter were Democrats Tom Courtney, Rich Taylor, Dennis Cohoon, Jerry Kearns and Todd Taylor and Republican Dave Heaton.