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Family of murdered Anamosa correctional officer calls on lawmakers to improve prison safety conditions

Kate Payne
IPR File
Flags fly at half-staff on March 24, 2021, outside the Anamosa State Penitentiary, one day after state officials say two inmates killed a nurse and a correctional officer while attempting to escape the prison.

The family of a correctional officer killed at the Anamosa State Penitentiary is calling on Iowa lawmakers to pass two bills aimed at improving safety conditions for prison staff.

Last March, correctional officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte were killed in an attack by inmates during an escape attempt at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.

The two bills, known as the Robert McFarland Act and the Lorena Schulte and Lorie Matthes Act would address a wide-range of safety precautions aimed at improving staff safety.

The bill includes the name of Matthes, a dental assistant at the prison who was held as a hostage by the inmates and sustained injuries from the attack.

The bills would restore collective bargaining rights for all correctional officers, and include prison health care staff in that category. Prison staff could get up to a month of paid leave if they witness a traumatic event.

The bills would also require self-defense training, more funding for surveillance cameras and contraband screening in prisons and would increase criminal penalties for assaults on officers.

At a press conference at the prison on Wednesday, McFarland’s wife, Sara, said her husband had been hurt on the job prior to his murder.

"If it's the last thing I do, I... am determined to make him proud," McFarland said. "And I'm determined to fight that this will not happen again. But they will have this health, the safety, everything that they need, and they deserve to do their jobs and be safe."

The Robert McFarland Act would define correctional officers as public safety employees for the sake of collective bargaining.

McFarland’s brother Dave said he was shocked to learn that correctional officers are not considered public safety employees under Iowa law.

"Someone please explain to me how correctional officers are not public safety? They protect our public with security and safety every day. I just don't understand that," he said.

Inmates Thomas Woodard and Michael Dutcher were both sentenced separately to two consecutive life sentences in prison each for the attacks last spring.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter
Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter