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Anamosa prison was overcapacity when inmates killed two staff members

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 8:33 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A decline in the number of correction department employees caused concern before an attack by two inmates killed two staff members at the Anamosa State Penitentiary on Tuesday. But KCRG-TV9′s i9 Investigative Unit found the prison was also overcapacity.

According to the data from the Iowa Department of Corrections, around eight facilities are overcapacity. Experts told TV9 overcapacity prisons are more likely to create dangerous situations for staff members because the chance of violence increases.

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On Wednesday, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said 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 and busted a window. When prison nurse, 50-year-old Lorena Schulte, tried to stop Woodward and Dutcher, authorities say she was beaten with hammers. She died from her injuries. Officials say Correctional Officer Robert McFarland tried to aid Schulte and was attacked and killed as well.

Flags across Iowa are flying at half staff in honor of Lorena Schulte and Robert McFarland.

Staffing levels have declined for more than a decade. In 2009, the DOC employed 4,173 people. In 2020, it employed 3,443 people-approximately a 20% decrease.

Dr. Jill McCorkel, a criminology professor at Villanova University, said this creates a dangerous mix that puts employees in danger.

“It’s a situation where the negative consequences are compounding,” she said. “It’ gives rise to an uptick in disciplinary infractions and an uptick in violence all of which creates an unsafe environment for correctional staff.”

Bill Bales, who is a former criminology professor at Florida State University and former director of research for Florida’s Department of Corrections, said overcrowded jails put employees in more danger.

“If there are overcrowding prisons, then they are going to be much more difficult to operate,” he said. “There’s going to be much more disruption and violence.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said it can convert medical units and more secure areas into areas serving the general population of inmates. Data from the department also shows there are fewer prisoners to look over.

Danny Homan, the president of AFSCME, the union that represents most of the Department of Corrections staff, said these conditions cause safety protocols to slip.

“There’s more work, there’s more stress, one person can’t supervise 300 inmates,” he said. “So there are all kinds of mischief that happens and safety protocols start to slip.”

Homan said for years he’s predicted staff members would eventually die on the job.

“We had two somebodies that got killed,” he said “Two people went to work on the 23rd expecting to go home to their families and they didn’t.”

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