Governor Branstad says he appreciates the work of Iowa’s prison guards and he believes staffing levels in the state’s prisons are adequate.
“We need to make sure that in all our facilities that we are protecting the safety of the citizens and the people that work there as well as the other inmates,” Branstad says. “I’m appreciative of the work that people do to protect the safety of our citizens and also the inner workings of not only corrections but, also, the Parole Board in trying to sort and determine which ones are the best risk to being released as well.”
Correctional officers at the state’s maximum security prison in Fort Madison held a rally last week, warning there’s not enough staff on duty to keep the facility safe. The president of the union which represents the largest share of state workers is a former prison guard and since last fall AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan has been saying staffing levels in the state prison system are too low. Branstad counters that one of his first acts after being sworn into office in January was to ask legislators to provide more money immediately to avoid significant layoffs in the prisons.
“We appreciate that at a maximum security facility safety always needs to be of great concern,” Branstad says.
Branstad and the lieutenant governor visited the Fort Madison prison about a month ago, and toured the new maximum security prison that’s under construction. During the visit, Branstad and Lieutant Governor Kim Reynolds met personally with some of the men who are serving life sentences at the prison. Branstad says he’s made similar trips in the past, but never gives “advance notice” of the visits.
“The reason for that is, you know, there are some people who knew if the governor’s coming they’d like to make a scene,” Branstad says. “We don’t want to give them that chance.”
Iowa’s maximum security prison in Fort Madison was built in 1839 and the original cell block is still in use today. It is the oldest prison west of the Mississippi River. The new facility should be ready by 2014.
Branstad was asked about prison safety near the end of his weekly news conference. Find the audio for the entire news conference here.