116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES — A correctional officer at the Anamosa State Penitentiary was attacked by an inmate Saturday and received medical care for bruises. The attack came about one month after two prison employees were killed at a facility some call overcrowded and understaffed.
The female officer was handing out medications to inmates on a cell block at the prison when an inmate placed the officer in a chokehold at 7:22 a.m. Saturday, according to Iowa Department of Corrections officials.
“She was able to use personal safety defensive techniques until additional staff in the area were able to respond and assist in taking control of the attacking inmate,” the department said in a news release.
The injured officer was taken by department vehicle to a hospital and was later released, according to corrections officials. The inmate was not seriously injured and the incident remains under investigation.
The attack came about one month after a deadly attack at the Anamosa prison and one day after a group of Democratic legislators toured the facility to see firsthand the conditions inside the maximum/medium security institution.
Two inmates, Michael Dutcher and Thomas Woodard, face murder, kidnapping and attempted murder charges based on allegations they struck Anamosa correctional Officer Robert McFarland, 46, and nurse Lorena Schulte, 50, in the head with hammers, killing them. They also briefly took another employee hostage and seriously wounded an inmate during a March 23 incident that authorities have called a failed escape attempt by two inmates.
On Friday a group of state lawmakers toured the Anamosa penitentiary, where they talked with employees and saw crowded conditions, they said in a news conference afterward.
“Over and over and over, we were shown areas of the prison where you have a huge number of inmates vastly outnumbering the number of staff who are there,” said Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville. Another legislator, Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, said one cell block she toured had 300 prisoners and two correctional officers to guard them.
The GOP-run Legislature is debating a fiscal 2022 state budget that calls for increasing corrections funding, but Democrats on Friday said the amounts the House and the Senate are proposing fall short of the $34 million needed to fill more than 500 vacant prison jobs and upgrade outdated radios and other technologies throughout the system.
According to corrections agency data, Iowa’s nine prisons house 7,651 offenders in a system with a design capacity to accommodate 6,933 inmates — which translated into 10.36 percent overcrowding with 1,030 in medical or segregation status. The Anamosa data indicated the current inmate count stood at 832 with a design capacity of 911 and 171 offenders in medical or segregation status.
Iowa’s prison system had 265 vacant staff positions as of March 31, which included 122 open jobs for correctional workers and 64 for nurses. Wahls said the state should spend $16 million filling those jobs and $18 million hiring another 300 prison employees to fill positions authorized at one point, but removed because there wasn’t enough money in the budget for multiple budget cycles.
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, earlier this week asked for a federal probe of the attack and staffing issues. However, U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, a Republican, told reporters Friday she thought it was the state’s role to investigate.
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