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DES MOINES — Three weeks after two Anamosa State Penitentiary employees were killed on the job, the head of a union representing Iowa’s prison workers made an impassioned plea Wednesday for a state Senate panel to approve more funding for staffing and safety as lawmakers move into negotiations with Gov. Kim Reynolds to forge a fiscal 2022 state budget.
Danny Homan, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, urged members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to boost their proposed $6.3 million increase for corrections funding as part of a Senate budget bill that a key GOP architect called “significant” — but still well below an Iowa House plan seeking to bolster prison operations by more than $20 million in the wake of the deadly March 23 attack at the Anamosa prison.
“There are not many folks inside these institutions that feel safe today after what happened on March 23,” Homan told the Republican-led panel before members voted 11-8 to advance Senate Study Bill 1265 to the full Senate. “You guys may wish to ignore this reality, but you know who isn’t ignoring the reality — inmates inside our systems.”
Issues related to staffing levels, training needs, equipment upgrades and other safety concerns moved to the fore of the justice-systems budget debate following the deaths of nurse Lorena Schulte, 50, and correctional Officer Robert McFarland, 46, at the hands of inmates identified by authorities as Michael Dutcher, 28, and Thomas Woodard, 39. The inmates, who now face murder charges, used hammers and a grinder from a tool room during an unsuccessful escape attempt and killed the two employees using the hammers.
“If we don’t fix this problem, there will be more,” Homan said of the “brutal” deaths. “Our belief is enough is enough. We would like to see a budget passed to ensure what happened in Anamosa never happens again.”
Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, agreed that the “killings were really tragic” and offered “thoughts and prayers” to the families of the two victims.
“It’s something that shouldn’t have happened,” said Garrett, co-chair of the justice systems budget subcommittee.
“I don’t know at this point that we can conclude that if there had been additional staff at the institution that the killings wouldn’t have happened,” he added. “At best I think we need to wait and get the results of the investigations that are going on. I would say that before we jump to conclusions we should at least hear the results of those investigations.”
Garrett said the $6.3 million increase for the Iowa Department of Corrections is part of an overall bill that proposes to spend $595.6 million for public safety, corrections, Justice Department, natural resources and defense functions of state government — a $10.6 million jump over current fiscal year levels.
“That is significant, that shouldn’t be diminished,” he noted. “I understand that many would like more than that. This is the beginning of our negotiations with the House. We don’t know yet what our final figures are going to be.”
In January, the governor proposed a $5 million increase to fund additional personnel for the Department of Corrections, and agency officials sought more than $392.5 million for their share of the fiscal 2022 justice systems appropriation before House subcommittee members raised the amount to a proposed $407.7 million.
During Wednesday’s Senate discussion, Sen. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, ranking subcommittee member, noted Iowa’s inmate population stood at nearly 10 percent above the prison system’s design capacity, creating “dangerous” conditions in facilities that remain crowded and understaffed and that won’t be properly addressed by the proposed fiscal 2022 funding level.
“This bill is wholly inadequate across the board,” he said.
Homan told senators that SSB 1265 was “a start, it should not be the end.” The AFSCME leader requested lawmakers fund an independent investigation of the Anamosa attack, saying he does not trust a probe “that’s being done when the bill is being paid for by the Department of Corrections.”
Last week, Reynolds announced that an internal investigation into the Anamosa killings was underway.
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