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Corrections department set to receive millions in extra funding

Amendments for even more funding, prosed by Democrats in the statehouse after an i9 Investigation showed significant issues, were defeated
Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 7:53 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Iowa Department of Corrections is set to receive about $20 million in additional funding for the next fiscal year. Democrats in the statehouse proposed multiple amendments to require the department fix issues uncovered by our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team.

Those included amendments include giving the department an additional $4.8 million, on top of the $20 million, to upgrade radios in three facilities. And requirements for the department to hire new workers. Both amendments failed to pass.

Iowa OSHA cited the Anamosa State Penitentiary, the prison where two inmates killed two staff members, for not having enough employees to respond to an emergency and broken radios. The citation, which i9 received through a public records request, said the TAIT Radios given to employees gave out false alarms, dropped radio transmissions, and don’t show the location of a radio when a “man down” alarm is pushed.

Iowa OSHA collectively fined the department around $20,000 for what it called “serious” violations. A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said it reviewed 58 separate emergency incidents in multiple facilities and didn’t find one issue with their radio conditions.

State Rep. Eric Gjerde, (D-Cedar Rapids) proposed the amendment to upgrade radios in three facilities across the Department of Corrections. Those facilities included Anamosa, Oakdale, and Rockwell City. He said he picked these locations because two were the most overcapacity.

“Anamosa was the OSHA complaint,” Gjerde said. “I took a look at Oakdale and Rockwell City because they were the most over-capacity.”

At the time of the attack, the Anamosa State Penitentiary was over capacity along with seven other facilities. 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, went under capacity after the attack.

Correctional officers at Anamosa State Penitentiary made more than $700,000 in overtime payments over the last two fiscal years. The data, which the KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received through a public records request, shows the state paid more than $863,831.25 in overtime payments to staff at the Anamosa prison over the last two years. In a few cases, correctional officers at the facility made more or almost more money in overtime than base pay in a single pay period.

Democratic lawmakers said these numbers were proof the Anamosa State Penitentiary is understaffed. However, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said its inmate to correctional officer ratio is 7.5 to 1. In Alabama, which is where the Department of Justice stepped in, the ratio was 9.9 inmates to 1 correctional officer.

State Republicans don’t want to mandate how the department spends the roughly $20 Million in additional funding it will receive. The party, which controls both chambers of the legislature, trusts the department to spend the money it receives in the way that best serves the department’s goals.

Sen. Julian Garrett, (R-Indianola), who is the Republican Chair for the subcommittee that oversees the Department of Corrections, said he has no reason to doubt the ability of the department to spend money.

“Though we did make individual increases to the various corrections institutions, we also gave lump sums to be used by Beth Skinner and her staff as they believe is best,” Garrett said. “I have no reason to doubt the ability of Director Skinner and her staff to make the best use of the resources they have to do their jobs. I have not made specific recommendations beyond what is in the budget bill, as to how the money should be spent.”

Those increases include $3 million dollars for the Anamosa State Penitentiary, funding for a pilot program designed to test the effectiveness of increasing treatment dosage for prisoners, and an additional $10 million for statewide duties at the discretion of the Central Office.

Cord Overton, who is a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, said the department doesn’t have specific plans for their additional funding.

However, Overton said they will focus on filling open positions, make improvements to prison security and developing hiring and retention incentives.

“This budget allows the department a good amount of flexibility in where to add additional security, treatment or medical staff,” he said. “And we will be working vigilantly to not only create the positions where necessary, but fill them with staff that are ready for the challenging work of Corrections.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds still needs to sign the state budget for the department to receive the boost in funding.

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