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Two Staffers At Anamosa Prison Are Dead Following Attack By Incarcerated Individual

A nurse and a correctional officer at the Anamosa State Penitentiary will killed Tuesday following an attack by an incarcerated individual. Multiple state agencies are investing the deadly incident.

Two staff members at the Anamosa State Penitentiary died Tuesday as a result of injuries sustained during an assault by an incarcerated individual, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.

At around 10:15 on Tuesday morning, an inmate attacked multiple staffers and other inmates in the prison’s infirmary. A correctional officer and a correctional nurse died despite attempts by staff and paramedics to provide life-saving aid, the department said in a written statement Tuesday.

The DOC is withholding the victims’ names until family members have been notified, and pending further investigation, which is being conducted jointly by the DOC, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

“At this time, the department is collecting and confirming details of the assault. What the department can confirm is that an inmate attacked multiple staff members and inmates in the prison's infirmary. As a result of their injuries, a correctional nurse and correctional officer have died,” the department’s written release stated. “This information is preliminary, and subject to change pending verification and additional details.”

The first deadly attack on Iowa prison staff in decades

The Anamosa State Penitentiary is a maximum/medium security facility, which as of Tuesday held 945 incarcerated individuals, a few dozen more than its listed capacity of 911, according to the DOC.

While staff assaults by incarcerated individuals happen with some regularity, the deadly attack by an inmate on staff is thought to be the first in five decades, the AP reported. In 1969, Edward Clark, who was incarcerated at the Iowa State Penitentiary, stabbed and killed officer Sam Reed.

Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a statement describing Tuesday’s attack as “tragic and heinous” and offering her condolences to the victims and their families.

“Today, our state grieves the loss of two public servants who were attacked while on duty at the Anamosa State Penitentiary,” Reynolds said in a written statement. “My prayers and deepest condolences are with their families, friends, and colleagues as they begin to cope with this senseless tragedy. We will exhaust every available resource to deliver justice to those who committed this act and bring a sense of closure and peace to the victims’ families.”

Reynolds will order the state’s flags be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims on the days of their internment.

Democratic lawmaker calls on state leaders to address 'chronic understaffing'

Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, a union which represents the state’s corrections workers, issued a statement saying the group is standing with those who are mourning the loss of the two staffers and that the union will soon “have more to say about how we can ensure this never, ever, ever happens again."

“No one should ever have to go to work and worry about whether they will come home or not,” Homan said in a written statement. “Unfortunately for two Iowans who had committed their lives to keeping our communities safe, they won’t be going home tonight. Our prayers are with their families, co-workers and loved ones during this time, and we will do everything we can to honor their memory.”

For years, advocates have decried the chronic overcrowding at the state’s prisons and the state funding cuts that have led to fewer staffers on the job to secure and run the facilities and more taxing overtime hours for employees.

In a statement expressing sympathy for the victims and their families, state Sen. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, who is the ranking member on the Justice Systems Appropriations Committee, called on state leaders to address the “chronic understaffing."

“The death of two prison employees at the Anamosa State Penitentiary is a horrible tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families, neighbors and co-workers,” Taylor said. “In addition to ensuring that justice is served, we must also ensure that state leaders address chronic understaffing and other systemic problems at our prisons before we have more deaths.”

Prisons strained by COVID-19, budget cuts

Advocates say understaffing issues have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused explosive, deadly outbreaks in multiple facilities, sickening more than 5,000 inmates and staff, and undermining staffers’ abilities to maintain basic operations at the prisons.

According to the department’s records, 19 incarcerated individuals and two staffers have died of the disease. There were no known positive cases of the coronavirus among inmates or staff at Anamosa on Tuesday.

During a presentation to the Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee last month, DOC Director Beth Skinner said the department remains hundreds of positions short of what it was during the Great Recession, forcing difficult decisions on how to balance security and rehabilitation efforts.

She said an infusion of funds under the federal CARES Act has helped cover expenses brought on by the pandemic, but that the state of the department’s finances is “serious."

“We would be in a dire state today if we didn’t have those dollars,” Skinner told state lawmakers.

Last July, Homan had again raised the alarm about conditions in the state’s facilities due to the pandemic and understaffing.

“Those folks don't have the tools that they need to have to do their jobs safely and adequately, at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, or at any correctional facility,” Homan told IPR in July, at a time when the FDCF was battling a COVID-19 outbreak.

“There's not enough staff,” he said.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter