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Overcrowding and staff shortages are still security risks in Iowa prisons

The main entry to the Anamosa State Penitentiary.
Kate Payne
IPR file photo
Inmates Thomas Woodard and Michael Dutcher will spend the rest of their lives in prison for the brutal killings of two prison staffers at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Security procedures have improved in Iowa prisons since two staff members were killed in March. But, according to a reviewordered by the Iowa Department of Corrections, prison crowding and staff recruiting are still two of the main problems within the system.

Correctional officer Robert MacFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte were murdered, and another staffer was taken hostage, on March 23 by two inmates trying to escape the Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Since then, the prison warden was replaced and the department hired a new director of security.

A four-page summary of the report prepared by the consulting firm CGL Companies said new safety policies are in place as a result.

CGL also said workers are required to work overtime to make up for staffing shortages, and they must do it while overseeing an outsized prison population.

Iowa corrections facilities held 8,106 inmates as of December 13, according to CGL, which is 16 percent more than they were designed to house.

“This level of crowding exacerbates existing operational challenges in security, offender management, and service delivery while placing significant additional pressure on custody staff,” the report said. “The additional workload and heightened tension created by crowding is a major factor in the Department’s current staff recruitment and retention issues.”

The report recommends expanding retention bonuses and looking at possible changes to the pay scale for prison workers to encourage them to keep their jobs.

In a statement, Corrections Director Beth Skinner said the review will help guide the next steps in addressing security operations in Iowa prisons.

“We look forward to carefully analyzing their findings and working hand-in-hand with our facilities around the state to implement them,” Skinner said. “The events that took place in Anamosa earlier this year were an unimaginable tragedy, and we continue to work through it together as a corrections family.”

The inmates responsible for the attacks in the Anamosa prison, Thomas Woodard and Michael Dutcher, pleaded guilty to the murders of MacFarland and Schulte and were ordered to serve life sentences in prisons outside of Iowa.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa