Thursday, April 15, 2021

$14 million gap between House and Senate GOP plans for prison budget

(Radio Iowa) - Senate Republicans are proposing a more than $6 million increase in next year's budget for the Iowa Department of Corrections, but that is $14 million below the recommendation from Republicans in the House. Danny Homan, president of the union that represents employees in the state prison system, says the prisons are grossly understaffed and the brutal murders of two Anamosa prison employees are a direct result.

"Years of inadequate funding...have left staff in all of our facilities to work in extremely dangerous institutions," Homan said. "...It's time to fix this problem...How many more people have to die before we're going to take this seriously?"

During a subcommittee hearing on the prison system's budget, Homan told senators there was only one serious assault on a prison employee a dozen years ago, but last year there were 13.

"There are not many folks inside these institutions that feel today after what happened on March 23, all right?" Homan said. "You guys may wish to ignore this reality, but you know who isn't ignoring the reality? Inmates inside our systems...And don't blame me for bringing this to your attention. The inmates have nothing better to do every day than sit and count how many officers are at work."

Homan says $6 million is a start, but it cannot be the end after what happened at the Anamosa prison three weeks ago. He asked senators to provide the funding for an independent investigation of the killings of correctional officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte and to buy a new radio communications system for the prison.

"Some of the worst of the worst are at Anamosa," Homan said. "...Our belief is enough is enough. We would like to see a budget passed to ensure what happened at Anamosa never happens again."

Senator Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, describes the $6.3 million increase in the prison system's budget as an opening offer from Senate Republicans.

"I do want to say that we certainly appreciate the work of all the people who are working in our corrections system," Garrett said. "...Our thoughts and prayers certainly go out to the families of the two individuals that lost their lives in Anamosa."

In addition to the criminal investigation of the murders, there are two other reviews of the incident. Garrett says there's it's too soon to say more staff would have prevented the attacks.

"Before we jump to conclusions, we should at least hear the results of those investigations," Garrett says.

Garrett says $6.3 million is a substantial increase, but he understands many would like more than that -- and there may be more when the final budget decisions are made.

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