The Iowa Senate on Wednesday advanced justice system funding that Democrats say is too low in light of the recent murder of two employees at the Anamosa state penitentiary.
Passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee 11-8 with Democrats opposed, the bill appropriates an increase of $6.3 million for the Department of Corrections. Democrats and union leaders have called for more after years of disinvestment in the system, which they say contributed to the death of corrections officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte by an inmate in the maximum-security prison on March 23.
Republican Sen. Julian Garrett said that the Senate shouldn’t “jump to conclusions” in saying that inadequate staffing caused by a lack of corrections funding bore responsibility for the murders, declining to bump up the allocation.
“I don’t know at this point if we can conclude that if there had been additional staff at the institution that the killings wouldn’t have happened,” said Garrett on Wednesday during the committee. “At best I think we need to wait and see the results of the investigations that are going on.”
Democratic Sen. Todd Taylor said the state’s 2021 budget doesn’t fit the current needs of the DOC, especially when it comes to salary adjustments and hiring more staff.
“The state budget has skyrocketed by 22%, yet corrections, the largest piece of our justice system, has only seen a 2% increase in the same timeframe. However, with this bill, the DOC gets an increase of 1.2%,” said Taylor.
“The DOC salary adjustment needs are $7 million right now. So in this bill, we’re seeing $6.2 million increase. That doesn’t cover what we need to pay for current staff. So that is not covering anything new, and have I mentioned that we’re over capacity?”
AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan testified at the committee meeting, setting demands of funding for vacant corrections positions, restoration of collective bargaining, new training procedures and an independent investigation of the murders.
“You guys may wish to ignore this reality, but you know who isn’t ignoring this reality? Inmates within our systems,” said Homan.
Homan said he met with both families of the victims, and they too asked for changes to the Department of Corrections.
“They said, ‘please fix it, so no other family has to go through what we went through.’ That was their wish. They’re not worried about themselves. They’re worried about the rest of those employees … and there are not many folks inside these institutions that feel safe today after what happened on March 23,” Homan said.
“We would like to see a budget passed to ensure that what happened at Anamosa never happens again.”
by Isabella Murray
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