The director of the state’s prison system and the leader of the union that represents most workers in the prisons have different views on an incident over the weekend at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.
A correctional officer was treated for injuries after being attacked by an inmate.
AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan says it’s the third security-related incident at Anamosa in 30 days. He claims staffing levels in Iowa’s prisons have reached “emergency” levels.
“The staffing at that particular institution is why that officer was assaulted,” Homan said. Iowa Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin disagrees and notes working in a prison is dangerous regardless of staffing levels.
“Corrections is a risk industry,” Baldwin said. “If you come to work for us and you do not believe you will be immune from risk, you’re in the wrong job.” Baldwin said they continually work to try and prevent this type of attack.
“Nothing will stop an offender from attacking someone if they are bound and determined to. Our job is to make sure that opportunity is greatly decreased, day after day after day,” Baldwin said.
Homan said the Iowa Legislature approved plans to hire 20 additional correctional officers in Anamosa, but he claims those officers were never hired.
“They’re playing Russian Roulette with the lives of correctional staff…inside our institutions. It’s time they stop playing games with that,” Homan said. Baldwin contends there’s no “magic number” when it comes to officer-to-inmate ratio. He said budget cuts forced staffing reductions at the Anamosa facility a few years ago, but many of those positions have been refilled.
“Anamosa has 317 on staff…that’s the most Anamosa has had since 2009 and they have five more correctional officers they’ll be hiring within the next couple of weeks,” Baldwin said. There are currently 1,085 inmates housed at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.
Baldwin spoke this morning at Governor Branstad’s weekly press conference. Branstad said he’s pleased with efforts by the Corrections Department and the Iowa Parole Board to reduce the prison population.
Baldwin said there are now 8,344 inmates in Iowa’s prisons. That’s down from 9,009 in April 2011. Baldwin suggested Homan is putting the correctional officers at risk with his complaints about staffing levels.
“The staff at corrections do a sensational job, they work so hard I can’t tell you and I am so proud of them. They do a wonderful job.” Baldwin said. “And I think to continually harp on this topic increases their likelihood of some issues.”