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Funding for the Iowa Department of Corrections has come under increased scrutiny since the March 23 murders of two Anamosa State Penitentiary employees.
State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat who told the Carroll Times Herald on May 27 he is considering a run for governor in 2022, is among the critics of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds over prison funding.
“Dozens of correctional officers sent to hospital over the last 5 years due to assault on the job: $0,” Sand tweeted May 28. He then said, “A few threats & some protestors on the Governor’s lawn: $400,000,” with a link to a KCRG-TV story about the state paying $400,000 for a fence around the Terrace Hill mansion where the governor resides.
Sand later tweeted May 28 the $0 figure “is focused on years of violence leading up to now that saw no action.”
“No one would read this tweet and think I was saying DOC doesn’t exist or is costless,” Sand said in a third tweet on May 28. “I’m saying the violence saw no meaningful response.”
First, we’ll take a look at whether dozens of Corrections Department employees have been hospitalized in the last five years in prison attacks as Sand claimed.
Sand pointed the Fact Checker to data showing attacks on Corrections staff since 2017. A spreadsheet provided by Sand that links to Department of Corrections news releases for verification showed 41 cases of staff assaults and one case of murder.
Someone needs to go back only to 2020 and 2021 to find more than a dozen hospitalizations. Of the 18 incidents to happen in 2020 or 2021, 14 of them involved treatment from a hospital. Another resulted in treatment from a medical provider, although it’s not clear if that was at a hospital. Out of the 42 incidents total, 27 involved a staff member being transported or being advised to go to a hospital.
We give this part of the claim an A.
For the second part of the claim, Sand referred the Fact Checker to a 2017 amendment that eliminated the requirement for the Department of Corrections to negotiate with labor unions over “health and safety matters.”
Sand argued the lack of negotiating requirement means “less than $0 right off the bat” on the health and safety matters. Not having the requirement to spend on “health and safety matters,” though, doesn’t necessarily mean less of the department’s budget went to that area.
Sand also referred the Fact Checker to an April 9 Gazette article about Iowa OSHA citing the Iowa Department of Corrections for workplace safety violations, including a lack of reliable radios for officers to use during a violent attack.
“The employer has failed to provide an adequate and reliable means of communication for employees to summon assistance during violent attacks or calls for emergency aid,” the OSHA citation said.
He also pointed to a May 7 article in the Des Moines Register showing prison staffing levels were near 30-plus-year lows before the Anamosa killings.
“Two decades of budget cuts left the people who guard Iowa's prisons understaffed and overmatched by a growing prison population, a Des Moines Register investigation found,“ the article said.
The Iowa House passed a bill with a $20 million budget increase for the Department of Corrections on May 17, 11 days earlier than Sand’s tweet. The bill passed the Iowa Senate on May 18.
Reynolds did not sign the bill until June 8, but there were no signs suggesting the Republican governor would veto the bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The agency said last week that $10 million of the increase will go to filling staff vacancies. Other funding will go to security upgrades, including more cameras.
In the last five fiscal years, the department’s budget increased from about $383.5 million in the 2016 fiscal year budget to $387.2 million in the 2021 fiscal year budget.
But when accounting for inflation, that effectively is a decrease in overall funding over the last five years. For comparison, the $383.5 million in July 2015 — the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year — would’ve been about $416.4 million after inflation in July 2020.
There were indications of insufficient funding leading up to the Anamosa prison attack, but giving a $0 number shortly after the Legislature agreed to add another $20 million to the department’ budget is misleading. We give this part of the claim a D.
For the third part of the claim about the “few” threats and “some” protesters at Terrace Hill leading to the $400,000 fence, the Iowa Department of Public Safety said repeated threats led to the decision to construct a fence, but did not indicate how many.
Sand also pointed to previously published emails about the fence that show conversations about the project as early as August 2020, seven months before the Anamosa attack and nine months before the Legislature passed the increase in funding.
We give this part of the claim an A.
The officer safety concerns and Terrace Hill fence details in Sand’s tweets are based in fact. The $0 number, tweeted after the Legislature approved a $20 million increase, ignores that fact. With two As and a D, we give this claim a B overall.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.
Claims must be independently verifiable.
We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Fact Checker was researched and written by John Steppe of The Gazette.