The head of the union that represents a majority of state workers is accusing the Iowa Department of Corrections of “downplaying” what he calls a “violent uprising” at the Iowa State Penitentiary.
AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan is responding to an agency news release about the incident last Saturday, July 1.
“They’re basically trying to cover up that we had, for all intents and purposes, a riot inside the maximum security prison in Fort Madison,” Homan told Radio Iowa.
The agency’s news release, issued Saturday afternoon, indicated the incident involved “multiple offenders” and “staff responded swiftly and gained immediate control of the situation.” Homan said he’s been told the racially-motivated fight in the prison yard involved 72 inmates, with some using tennis rackets as weapons.
“The officers I talked to said that this was one of the scariest situations they had been in in their careers with the Department of Corrections,” Homan said. “It took some of them back to what they heard about the riot, when we did lose part of that prison, back in the 1980s.”
A riot at the Iowa State Penitentiary on September 2, 1981 resulted in the stabbing death of one inmate. Prison employees were taken hostage and beaten and there was more than a million dollars worth of property damage. In the incident this past weekend, no staff were injured and all injuries sustained by inmates were described as minor. Homan claims prison guards “stopped a near-takeover” of the maximum security prison by the inmates.
“The Department of Corrections wants to downplay everything and try to convince everybody that everything is just great inside the walls of the Iowa State Penitentiary. It’s not. Things are not great inside the walls in any of our prisons,” Homan said.
Homan has long criticized what he calls “dangerous understaffing” of Iowa’s prisons.
In response to Homan’s comments, the Iowa Department of Corrections issued a statement to Radio Iowa defending the initial press release as “accurate and timely.” In addition, the agency’s statement says “using terms like ‘riot’ and ‘violent uprising’ to describe the altercation…indicates either a lack of understanding of these terms, or a deliberate attempt to invoke a strong, emotional reaction.” Agency officials say while there was a “large fight” among the inmates, “there were no assaults on staff, no hostages, and no damage to property.”
STATEMENT FROM AFSCME COUNCIL 61 PRESIDENT DANNY HOMAN:
“The Iowa Department of Corrections did a shameful job of reporting the true scope of the riot resulting in lockdown at the Iowa State Penitentiary on Saturday. The so-called “multiple offenders” was actually at least 72 inmates, and the reported lack of weapons failed to mention the tennis rackets that were used as weapons in the racially-motivated fight. The only detail they did get right was the swift de-escalation of the riot by the responding Correctional Officers. According to a Correctional Officer from ISP, this was the scariest situation that he and many of his colleagues had ever encountered on the job. Some of his longer serving counterparts recalled that the only incident to even come close to the magnitude of this violent outbreak was the ISP riot in 1981. This may very well have been the single largest prison fight in our state’s history. The fact that no staff were injured and the involved inmates only sustained minor injuries is a miracle. On the same day that Correctional Officers successfully stopped a near-takeover, the gutting of their rights as “non-public safety” public employees by Iowa House and Senate Republicans and Governors Branstad and Reynolds went into effect. Not once did the officers fearing for their lives stop and weigh the risk of running into the riot without self-defense for a job that continuously devalues their dedication. Their bravery deserves respect, not a slap in the face.”
STATEMENT FROM IOWA DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS:
Using terms like “riot” and “violent uprising” to describe the altercation that occurred on Saturday, July 1 indicates either a lack of understanding of these terms, or a deliberate attempt to invoke a strong, emotional reaction. While there was a large fight between offenders, there were no assaults on staff, no hostages, and no damage to property. All of the information in the department’s press release was accurate and timely. There was an incident involving multiple offenders on the yard. Staff responded swiftly and gained immediate control of the situation. While responding to the incident there were no noted injuries to staff. Only minor injuries to offenders were reported, and no weapons were known to be involved. The department continues to investigate the situation. In the meantime, the department confirms the number of offenders involved in the altercation was in the 50s. The correctional officers showed exceptional professionalism, skill, and care for the offenders’ safety, and they responded and gained control of the incident immediately. They did a great job.