Decline in the number of corrections employees caused concern before Tuesday’s murders

A concern from union leadership for prison workers, for years, has focused on staffing and whether there are enough workers in the prisons and jails.
Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 11:12 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Union leadership for prison workers has been sounding the siren on the need for workers for years, warning of something like Tuesday’s attack happening.

On Wednesday, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation revealed two inmates, 39-year-old Thomas Woodward and 28-year-old Michael Dutcher, tried to escape the Anamosa State Penitentiary. They made up a story about repairing equipment in the infirmary. The two busted a window. A prison nurse, 50-year-old Lorena Schulte, tried to stop the inmates. Woodward and Dutcher beat her with hammers. She died from her injuries. Correctional Officer Robert McFarland tried to aid her, and was attacked and killed as well.

“You don’t want to know what was going through my head when I heard about this,” Danny Homan, the president of AFSCME, the union that represents most of the Department of Corrections staff, said.

Homan’s message has been consistent for years: the department needs to find a way to hire staff.

“I have said more than once that something like this might happen if we don’t fix the staffing levels of our prisons, and unfortunately, that came true,” Homan said.

Staffing levels have declined for more than a decade. In 2009, the DOC employed more than 4,200 people and nearly 1,600 officers. As of 2020, there was a 40% decrease in DOC employees to about 2,600 and just 1,400 officers. This was something DOC leaders said they would be looking closely at after investigators said two inmates killed two prison workers on Tuesday.

“We will do everything we can at the Iowa Department of Corrections to look into this and fully investigate and research all of our practices around this instance,” Beth Skinner, the department’s director, said.

The investigation has just started, but Homan wants people to step back and remember what happened to this prison nurse and correctional officer, and from his perspective, the funding was part of the “why.”

“Two employees went to work this morning expecting to go home,” Homan said. “Neither of them were getting to go home.”

Skinner said the Anamosa State Penitentiary had the normal level of staffing on Tuesday when the attack happened, but couldn’t go into details as to how many employees were working.

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