The recent murder of two employees at the Anamosa state penitentiary was caused by “grossly inadequate staffing” and years of disinvestment in the corrections system, AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan said on the Capitol steps on Tuesday, despite his repeated attempts to work with Republican leadership on the problems.
Corrections officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte were beaten to death by an inmate in the maximum-security prison on March 23, which Homan said shed a light on Iowa Department of Corrections’ deep-rooted problems.
The union leader held a press conference with Democratic legislators on Tuesday to list demands from the GOP-run Legislature, including funding for vacant corrections positions, restoration of collective bargaining, new training procedures and an independent investigation of the murders. Homan said he has not heard back from Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds or any legislative Republicans.
“It’s time Governor. It’s time to sit across the table from me and have a conversation. Instead of hiding from us…Instead of silencing us. People’s lives are at stake. I don’t want anybody else dying,” Homan said.
“I sent [Reynolds] a letter and asked her to meet with us last Friday … I’m going to be honest with you. Since Terry Branstad was elected and Kim Reynolds was elected, I’ve not heard from the Governor of the state of Iowa. I represent the largest number of people that work for them.”
This isn’t the first AFSCME ask for additional funds for the corrections system, Homan said.
“Reporters have said, ‘Danny you’ve been worrying about this for ten years.’ Yeah, I have. If the staffing inside the Department of Corrections for the state in general does not get better, someone is going to die. Two weeks ago, unfortunately, that prediction came true,” he said.
This session’s justice appropriations bill, again underfunds the department of corrections, Homan said.
“These deaths were preventable, maybe even predictable. When you have factors in the prison, like overcrowding, understaffing and underfunding, don’t be surprised when staff is hurt and killed,” said House Democratic Leader Todd Prichard at the press conference.
Homan, spirited on the Capitol steps, had just come from a 9:00 a.m. House subcommittee meeting for the justice appropriations bill, where he testified on the recent events at Anamosa. The union leader said that during the meeting his microphone was unwillingly turned off.
“Republicans have said in the last few months that they want to be the party of the working class, but where the hell are they? I don’t see them here. The letter sent to legislative leaders was sent to every legislative leader. We heard today that we haven’t heard back from them,” said Senate Minority Leader Sen. Zach Wahls during the press conference.
House Republicans are now proposing a $20 million increase for the Department of Corrections, but Homan noted that it still wouldn’t be enough to fully fill all the vacate positions.
Wahls said that Iowa Democrats support all of AFSCME’s requests, and will work to pass them in the last weeks of session—similar to the 2020 legislative session’s passage of racial justice legislation in the days following George Floyd’s murder.
“The legislature has taken decisive action in the closing weeks of session before. We were all out here just last summer following a similar type legislative process, and if the Legislature wants to honor the memory of Lorena Schulte and Robert McFarland, then we have to protect the lives of every single one of our workers in the Department of Corrections across this state.”
by Isabella Murray
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