On March 23, 2021, two workers were killed and one taken hostage on the job at an Eastern Iowa prison.
One year later, an Iowa labor union says more legislation is needed for corrections employees and their families.
Robert McFarland, a 46-year-old corrections officer from Ely, and Lorena Schulte, a 50-year-old nurse from Cedar Rapids, were killed after being attacked by two inmates at the maximum/medium security Anamosa State Penitentiary in Jones County.
Michael Dutcher and Thomas Woodard pleaded guilty last fall to two counts of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree kidnapping and one count of attempted murder, based on allegations they struck McFarland and Schulte in the head with hammers. Dutcher and Woodard also were found to have taken dental assistant Lorie Matthes hostage briefly and seriously wounded another inmate, McKinley Roby.
Both Dutcher and Woodard were sentenced to life in prison.
The prison houses around 920 people, with a capacity of 908, serving out state sentences. It employs another 321, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections. After the attack, AFSCME Council 61, which represents corrections officers, said staffing shortages as a result of underfunding by the Legislature was partly to blame.
“Today is a sad and solemn anniversary,” said Jen Pellant, field coordinator for the Western Iowa Labor Federation. “But there is something we can do besides mourn.”
The federation is calling on Iowans to pressure legislators to pass House Files 2404 and 2405. Both bills were introduced on Feb. 16 by Rep. Todd Prichard, a Democrat from Charles City, but have stalled in committee.
The bills would, among other things, extend state-paid health care coverage to surviving spouses and children of certain employees of the Department of Corrections, strengthen collective bargaining for such employees, and bump up an assault charge causing injury against such employees from an aggravated misdemeanor to a felony.
“These bills would bring much needed improvements to our state’s correctional system,” AFSCME Council 61 noted in a Facebook post Wednesday.
The council noted the bills didn’t survive “funnel week,” but can still be “brought up as a leadership bill.” AFSCME noted the bills were bipartisan, noting Republican Rep. Jon Thorup of Knoxville was a co-sponsor.
In a release, Pellant of the Western Iowa Labor Foundation also called on supporters to tell their local representatives to support the bills, as well as share a graphic the federation made to mark the occasion.
“We want to both acknowledge that terrible loss and call people to action on behalf of the public workers who do this dangerous work every day,” she said.
By Amie Rivers
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