19th Century Fortress-like Maximum Security Prison
The prison was established in 1839, seven years before Iowa statehood. The gothic, castle-like facility is an imposing structure that was modeled after the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York. The Auburn facility is the oldest operating prison in the United States.
Prior to the abolition of capital punishment in Iowa, executions were performed at the ISP. The last prisoner executed here was a drifter named Victor Feguer, convicted of the murder of Dr. Edward Bartels, of Dubuque, on July 11, 1960. Feguer lured Dr. Bartels to his rented room, kidnapped him, and drove him to Illinois where he shot and killed the doctor. Feguer was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, when he attempted to sell Dr. Bartels' car. Because Feguer crossed state lines, the crime became a federal case. He was held at the Leavenworth federal prison and returned here for the last ten days of his life because Leavenworth was not equipped for executions.
Many appeals, including one to President John F. Kennedy, were turned down. Feguer was put to death by hanging on March 15, 1963, the last inmate in the Federal prison system to be put to death until Timothy McVeigh at the Terre Haute, Indiana Federal Prison in 2001. Feguer was the last person in Iowa to be executed as Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1965.
The Fort Madison facility is one of the oldest prisons in the country and will be replaced in 2014. Construction of the new prison began in 2010 and was completed in October 2013. Transition will begin sometime in 2014 (the dates are being withheld) and, according to prison officials, should be complete by July 2014.