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Anamosa prison now under capacity following deadly attack

Published: May. 3, 2021 at 8:13 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - New data from the Department of Corrections shows the Anamosa State Penitentiary is under capacity.

Our KCRG-TV9 i9 investigative team discovered that it, along with seven other facilities, was overcapacity when investigators say two inmates killed two staff members back in March. Experts said that overcapacity prisons are more likely to create dangerous situations for staff members because the chance of violence increases. Two state prisons, Anamosa and Fort Dodge, are now under capacity.

Department of Corrections
Department of Corrections(None)

Cord Overton, who is a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, said the decision to reduce the inmate population was made to improve security inside the prison after a new warden took over operations.

“Since bringing in Interim Warden Gibbs to ASP, a series of significant changes are underway at the prison,” Overton said. “These are being made in an effort to improve security and operations at the prison going forward. In order to properly implement many of these changes, the population was reduced at ASP and transferred to multiple facilities across the state that had the capacity.”

Data shows Iowa’s correctional system, which can hold 6,933 inmates currently holds 7,679 inmates. 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,” McCorkel 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,” Bales 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.

McCorckel said the COVID-19 pandemic has made prisons more dangerous because prisoners are more restricted to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“This is getting worse in the pandemic as prison systems are responding primarily in terms of lockdown policies, which is exacerbating mental health problems,” McCorkel said. “Because they may find themselves having to break-up fights or deal with mental health crises that they aren’t equipped to deal with because so many other staff members are out sick from the virus.”

Wanda Bertram, who is a spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative, also agreed the pandemic is creating an increase in the likelihood of violence. She said overcrowding compounds these issues, which means bringing a prison below capacity doesn’t automatically fix these issues.

“Sometimes there is a pragmatic need for that,” Bertram said. “But I think if you are trying to solve the bigger problem, right, which is overcrowded facilities, experiencing outbreaks of violence because people get desperate, moving some people around isn’t going to fix that problem.”

Bertram said moving people to other facilities just shifts the burden to other staff members. Those staff members are working more overtime as well. The Department of Corrections said the COVID-19 Pandemic has led to more than $4 Million in overtime payments during the 2021 fiscal year. In 2020, the department paid around $2.6 Million in overtime.

The Department of Corrections is also looking to hire around 100 people system-wide for security positions.

Danny Homan, who is the president of AFSCME Council 61 and union leader for the correctional officers, said the number of overtime hours causes workers to make mistakes.

“Unintentionally, they get sloppy because they’re dog tired,” Homan said. “In my opinion, you should never work a 16-hour shift.”

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