The president of the union representing employees in Iowa’s correctional system says violence inside the prisons has become commonplace, due to depleted staffing.
In a letter to legislative leaders, AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan said since a nurse and a correctional officer were murdered inside the Anamosa prison last week, there have been “at least three other assaults against corrections employees.” According to Homan, there are 234 vacant correctional officer positions in the system today, including 14 at the Anamosa prison.
Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, a Democrat from Coralville, said last week’s attack at the prison in Anamosa should prompt “decisive” bipartisan action in the legislature.
“It was obviously a tragedy and we’re at a point now where thoughts and prayers and flying the flag at half staff are not enough,” Wahls said during a news conference earlier today. “We need action.”
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver indicated Senate GOP budget plans had already included $4 million more dollars for the Iowa Department of Corrections, so more prison guards may be hired. House Speaker Pat Grassley today said House Republicans are planning something similar.
“Obviously, we had a terrible situation happen at the prison,” Grassley said during a news conference. “I think you were going to see a strong number in our budget, but I think it just further strengthens our option that was the right decision that we were working off of.”
Wahls said policy reforms are needed, too, like letting prison staff collectively bargain over workplace safety issues, “in order to truly make sure that our corrections officers and staff are able to work and do their jobs and that they can leave home without having to worry about whether or not they’ll come home that evening.”
Homan, in his letter, also called on legislators to conduct their own investigation of the causes of last week’s attack at the Anamosa prison.