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Iowa corrections package is good but not good enough

Iowa Capitol. Photo credit: Getty.
By Ezra Kane-Salafia & Council 61 Staff ·

Two months after the killings of Nurse Lorena Schulte and Corrections Officer Robert McFarland, two dedicated Anamosa State Penitentiary corrections staffers and longtime AFSCME members, the Iowa Legislature has approved a $20 million spending increase for corrections to increase safety and ease chronic understaffing found across the state corrections system. Additionally, the package included survivors benefits for the McFarland’s family, including health care and the extension of the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship to his children.

These are laudable measures, but state lawmakers must continue to focus on improving the corrections system, said AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan.

“While this budget was a good step forward, there is still much work to be done,” he said. “This budget did not go nearly far enough in providing the number of staff, protections for the staff or equipment for staff necessary to keep our prisons safe.”

Several incidents at Anamosa since the killings confirm Homan’s assertions. Just one month after the attacks, another officer was put in a chokehold by an inmate. Then, just days after the $20 million legislative package passed, bomb-making materials were found at the prison.

“This has got to end. The department must do a top to bottom sweep of all institutions,” said Homan. “With their new appropriation, they must hire the staff, replace the equipment necessary, and put the proper protocols in place to make our institutions safe.”

Homan expressed concern that because efforts in the legislature failed to earmark money in the package for staffing increases, improvements to radio equipment, and other safety measures, the “no-strings fund for the department … leaves the possibility that the Department [of Corrections] will not use those dollars to address the critical staff shortages.”

Still, the increase is a step in the right direction for the Department of Corrections, which is near its lowest staffing in 30 years.

“It is our hope that this is just the beginning of fixing the problems at the Department of Corrections. The problems in our prisons weren’t created overnight and won’t be solved with one budget,” Homan said. “This is going to take many years to make our prisons as safe as they can be, and AFSCME Council 61 will be there every step of the way fighting for more staff, more equipment, and more protections for those in our prisons.”

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