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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CLARINDA — A group of Iowa Department of Corrections employees stood outside Wednesday in full combat gear, despite the 80-degree weather. One man, a crisis negotiator, was yelling to a woman inside a nearby building. The others stood around him with weapons at the ready.
The woman in the building told the crisis negotiator she wanted to hurt somebody. The negotiator had been told she was an inmate at the Clarinda Correctional Facility who had slipped away during a riot and was now holed up in an empty building on the grounds. He was trying to find out if she had hostages.
In reality, the woman was an Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) employee, as were her four hostages. The situation was part of a three-day training in which crisis negotiators and corrections emergency response teams practiced how they would respond in a variety of emergency situations.
While this team tried to reason with the woman in the building, other teams faced similar scenarios across the grounds of the former Clarinda Mental Health Institute, which is now owned and maintained by the DOC.
There were also classes on the psychology of negotiations, strategic planning, restraints training, and other topics.
The training went from Tuesday through Thursday, and involved eight corrections emergency response teams from across the state, as well as crisis negotiators from each correctional facility.
The teams are made up of DOC employees who apply for the positions. These employees can be corrections officers, counselors, medical workers, or maintenance workers. The employees maintain their regular jobs, but also train for emergency situations.
Nick Crawford, the DOC’s communications director, said it’s important to have a variety of employees on the teams because they each bring different insights and capabilities to an emergency situation.
The statewide training is an annual event that started in 2017 and was postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the second training held since it was shut down — the first was held last fall.
Brian Foster, the DOC’s director of security operations, said the training requires months of planning, and help from DOC employees who volunteer to participate as role players or support personnel during the various scenarios.
“We started our planning for this back in November, and then we met monthly. From last year’s training we tried to identify some of the needs and then build on those needs to try to fill some of the things that we saw last year and to include new things into this training to where we can constantly build and get staff better prepared,” Foster said.
He said new this year was a longer role-play scenario that played out Tuesday night after dark.
“It really showed us a lot of things that we learned from and are able to address next time. And we’ll actually address this with teams throughout the year and build training into what they do on a regular basis to help prepare for when we do this again,” Foster said.
The importance of emergency preparedness in prisons was highlighted last year when two inmates at the Anamosa State Penitentiary used hammers to kill a nurse and a correctional officer during a failed escape attempt.
The two inmates, Michael Dutcher, 28, and Thomas Woodard, 39, had checked out hammers and a metal grinder under the ruse of fixing something in the break room of the prison's infirmary, and attempted to use the tools to escape, according to officials. Both have since been sentenced to life in prison for the murders.
Foster said that while the incident in Anamosa was tragic, it didn’t directly affect these training plans.
“The unfortunate events of Anamosa, of course, it is always there, it always will play a role in what we do, but really the focus of this training is just to continue on what was started years ago and continue to build on that,” Foster said.
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