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DES MOINES — A comprehensive internal investigation into the killings of a corrections officer and a nurse at the Anamosa State Penitentiary two weeks ago is underway, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday.
“The security of our prisons and the safety of our staff are our highest priorities,” the governor said about what she labeled the “horrific and evil” deaths.
Correctional Officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte were killed when two inmates attempted to escape March 23, according to authorities. A third prison worker, Lorie Matthes, was taken hostage during the attack.
Department of Corrections Director Beth Skinner has made staffing changes and created a new position of director of prison security to focus solely on “assessing and improving security across all facilities,” Reynolds said.
Anamosa Warden Jeremy Larson has been reassigned as interim warden at the Newton facility. Fort Madison Warden Randy Gibbs has been temporarily reassigned to Anamosa, according to the department. The changes were part of a reshuffling of leadership posts, including a retirement and four reassignments, the department said.
Feedback forums will be conducted at each state prison “so that staff can openly voice their concern to the department leadership,” Reynolds said. In addition, there also will be an external investigation in addition to the criminal investigation of the attack.
“We’re going to bring in an outside team to do a thorough investigation of all the facilities,” she said. Details will be forthcoming later this week, her spokesman said.
“So together, we’ll address any issues the investigations may reveal, and we’ll do what’s necessary to protect our people,” Reynolds said. “Nothing is more important than that.”
Legislative Democrats and AFSCME Council 61, which represents prison staff, have asserted that understaffing and underfunding the state corrections facilities for years have created a volatile situation that led to the first deaths of Iowa prison staff in nearly 50 years.
During legislative committee discussion of a bill to increase Corrections Department funding by $20 million, Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, insisted “staffing is part of the tragedy.”
Reynolds said 93 percent of Corrections positions are filled, with 5 percent in the process of being filled. Only 2 percent of the nearly 3,700 Corrections positions are unfunded in the current budget, she said.
That $20 million proposed budget increase “seems like a lot, but it’s not enough” to make prisons safe for staff or inmates, said Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, noting that a prisoner who sought to render aid to McFarland and Schulte also was injured.
Corrections staff need salary increases, “but they also need bodies at their side,” he said.
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