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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — In the wake of the murder of two staffers at Anamosa State Penitentiary, the Iowa Department of Corrections is planning a major recruitment and retention effort that includes adding 43 positions at the Jones County prison.
“We've been through some very challenging times,” Corrections Director Beth Skinner told legislators Wednesday, referring to the March 23, 2021, deaths of nurse Lorena Schulte and correctional officer Bob McFarlane, and the hostage-taking of another staffer, Laurie Mathis.
Skinner asked the House Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee for a $407.7 million general fund budget for the coming fiscal year, which includes the second half of a $20 million appropriation lawmakers approved in 2021. If her request is approved, it would be an increase from nearly $387 million in each of the previous two budget years.
Skinner hopes to add 85 positions — 80 of them in the state’s nine prisons. Recruitment and retention are problems for employers everywhere, she said, but there are additional challenges in corrections. So the department has added a person to develop a strategic plan for recruitment and retention.
Corrections has 288 vacancies with 203 of those being correctional officer positions, Skinner said.
“We can hire 50, 60 people, but then 56 are gone out the door,” Skinner said. “So we have to be thoughtful and strategic of how we keep our good staff and bring in good staff.”
Staffing numbers have fluctuated, but are down from 3,064 in fiscal 2009 to 2,450 today. Over that time, prison population has been as high as 8,781, and is at 8,181 today, Skinner said, meaning that the inmate to staff ratio has gone from 2.75 to 1 to 3.33 to 1.
Staff numbers and COVID-19 absences contribute to as much as $9 million in overtime costs — up from $3.5 million per year pre-pandemic, she said, and the competitive market for nurses likely will cost the department nearly $3 million for contract and temporary nurses.
Inmate population has dipped during the coronavirus pandemic, but is starting to creep up now that the court system has opened up, Skinner said.
Prison population, which was 22 percent over capacity before the pandemic, now is 17 percent over capacity. The department also is aware there are nearly 4,000 felony cases pending in the courts and 244 prisoners being held in county jails.
“So what we know is that there's a potential for our population to continue to grow,” she said.
The subcommittee took no action on Skinner’s funding request, but its recommendation will be part of the overall House budget proposal.
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