Iowa Agency Explores Using Prison Labor To Build Homes

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa agency wants to use inmates to eventually build at least 100 homes a year for low-income individuals around the state, an unusual idea within the expansive prison labor industry.

The Iowa Department of Corrections said the program, which was quietly considered but ultimately rejected during the last legislative session, would give inmates work-training that could reduce their likelihood of returning to prison once they’re released. The agency believes it could help alleviate Iowa’s shortage of skilled workers while addressing its lack of affordable housing.

Yet the effort has faced an uphill climb. A bill to create the program failed to secure enough votes. It was later added to a pair of unrelated budget bills before getting cut.

Most states use prison labor to produce a range of goods and services, but few for homebuilding.