Iowa prison workers on Wednesday held another rally, this time in Newton, to protest staffing levels they claim are unsafe. Gerald Jones has worked as a correctional officer at the Newton Correctional Facility for 15 years.
“Staff assaults, inmate assaults and gang activity are increasing and we’re not staffing security posts because of the staff shortages,” Jones told Radio Iowa. Similar rallies have been held outside prisons in Anamosa and Fort Madison in recent weeks.
In Newton, Jones said the prison has lost 100 workers in the last decade while the prison population has soared. “That’s a 25% reduction from our highest staffing level in 2001 and our prison population is the highest it’s ever been,” Jones said. Statewide, the prison population has grown nearly 15% since 2001.
Governor Branstad has defended the levels of prison staffing, noting that he approved more money to the Corrections Department budget last year after “massive cuts” under the Culver administration. “We provided 25-million dollars in additional money for corrections because we could see that jeopardized public safety and health,” Branstad said.
Jones said prison workers appreciate the $25 million for pay raises, but he adds much of that money was designated to fill 40 security positions across the prison system. AFSCME Iowa Council President Danny Homan has called for an investigation into what he says is a misappropriation of state funds.
Jones also notes prison workers, prior to the pay raises, had agreed to a contract that called for a zero-percent, followed by a negative-one-percent pay raise. “Basically, we have our governor saying ‘we need shared sacrifice.’ We’ve shared, we shared that sacrifice. We care about this state and its safety. We do a dangerous job and it’s a necessary job, but we need adequate staff to do the job,” Jones said.
Governor Branstad said he believes the corrections department has been “treated fairly” considering the state’s tight budget.
“This is 25-million dollars more than was available under the previous administration, so I think we’ve made significant progress,” Branstad said.