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Iowa OSHA: Anamosa Prison didn’t have enough employees to help during an emergency

Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 12:02 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A state agency warned last August the Anamosa State Penitentiary, the prison where two inmates killed two staff members, didn’t have a reliable way to contact other employees for help during an emergency. And those assigned to respond to an emergency might not be able to respond.

The citation from Iowa OSHA, which our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received through a public records request, said these were serious violations. The agency gave the department of corrections a $9,472 fine for the citation.

Iowa OSHA, which is charged with enforcing workplace safety and health standards, collectively fined the DOC $20,007 for safety violations related to the Anamosa Prison.

Radio Problems

The complaint said TAIT Radios given to employees have “shortcomings that impeded the communication abilities of staff facility-wide.” Those shortcomings include not showing the location of a radio when a “man down” alarm button is pushed.

The complaint said the radios malfunction with unprompted “man-down” alarms and drop radio transmissions. The complaint also said master control has problems with the radios that include the inability to receive a transmission, give poor clarity of transmission after an alarm is triggered and malfunction master control center consoles.

Iowa OSHA said “These deficiencies slow or prevent the adequate response of correctional officers during an emergency or threat of attack.

Staff unable to respond to an emergency

The report from Iowa OSHA said those in charge of responding to an emergency are not continually available to respond to an emergency.

The citation said those in charge of responding might not be able to respond if they are in-route with a protective custody inmate, supervising inmates with Class-A tools, transporting inmates to the hospital, assisting with medication passing, providing break relief or various other tasks that don’t allow a responder to leave their spot.

Iowa OSHA said this stops a consistent response by individuals during violent attacks by offenders on correctional staff.

Other Issues and Responses

The other violations were for exposing employees to dangerous fall conditions because stair rails are not tall enough, and training programs are without opportunity for interactive questions and answers.

Cord Overton, who is a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Corrections, said the department is appealing the violations.

“The citation has been contested by the department and is currently pending before an administrative law judge with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals,” he said. “The department does not comment on matters pending litigation.”

Governor Kim Reynolds didn’t directly answer if she believed the Anamosa Prison was understaffed during the attack when asked by reporters on Wednesday.

“Well, that’s what the review is going to help us identify,” she said.

Gov. Reynold then pointed to the 93 percent of full-time positions in the prison system that are currently filled, while hiring is underway to fill 5 percent of those available positions. Two percent of positions are unfunded, which means there’s no money in the budge to fill those positions.

Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team found disparities between the state budget, Department of Corrections, and Anamosa State Penitentiary. State funding at the Anamosa State Penitentiary has grown by around 2.7 percent, even though the estimated total funds available for the state have grown by around 22.7 percent. The Department of Corrections budget over the same time period has increased around 9.3 percent.

After our investigation, State House Republicans proposed more than $20 Million in new funding for the department on Tuesday.

Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team also found eight facilities, including the Anamosa Prison were overcapacity during the attack. Experts told TV9 prisons that are overcapacity are more likely to create dangerous situations for staff members because the chance of violence increases.

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