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Iowa DOC announces systemwide outside investigation and talk reforms at first board meeting since two staff members died

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 7:17 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa Department of Corrections Director Dr. Beth Skinner announced the department is looking for a company to review the state’s prison system, in addition to another external investigation centered around the Anamosa prison. She also listed a number of reforms the department is attempting to fulfill since the death of two staff members on the job in March.

Investigators said two inmates attacked and killed two staff members at the Anamosa State Penitentiary while trying to escape. Those staff members were later identified as Robert McFarland and Lorena Shulte. Friday was the Department of Corrections’ first board meeting since the attack.

During the meeting, Skinner went over a list of reforms the department is undertaking since the attack. Many of the reforms discussed were announced earlier.

Those include a new position dedicated to improving security in prisons and feedback sessions with prison staff. Skinner said the department will also invest in new cameras, IT security measures, new equipment along with adding tool control measures, emergency response teams, and training.

The department is conducting two different external reviews of its operations. One review is an independent review on the incident at Anamosa and another will look at each individual facility in Iowa’s correctional department. Officials from Minnesota and South Dakota will conduct the external review of the incident in Anamosa. Skinner said on Friday these two states were chosen because they had similar incidents in the past.

The state is looking to sign a contract with another company to conduct an independent review of each facility in the state.

Skinner said the new position called a security operations director was filled and will start May 24. The person filing the position, according to Skinner, holds a similar position in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and was a warden in three different prisons.

Skinner said the external reports will likely lead to more changes within the department. But, she will wait for those reports to come out before making changes in leadership.

“I want to see all the reports in their final form before I make any final decisions in terms of the leadership in this agency,” Skinner said.

She said the report will also determine other questions like when inmates will have access to apprenticeship programs again.

Randy Gibbs, who is the interim warden at the Anamosa prison, said he is continuing to make changes inside the prison. Although, he didn’t specify those changes and no board members asked him any questions.

Our KCRG-TV9 I9 Investigative Team learned in earlier this month part of those changes was to improve security and required fewer prisoners inside the Anamosa Prison. This resulted in the prison going under capacity. The prison was overcapacity during the attack. Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative team also learned the prison was cited for broken radios and spent more than $700,000 in overtime during two years.

Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team also learned after being warned about potential dangers in its facilities, Iowa’s Department of Corrections tried to push legislation that would stop inspections from happening inside its prisons.

Gibbs also said the prison dedicated a flower garden in the prison courtyard for the two staff members who died on Thursday. Skinner said the families were at the dedication ceremony.

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