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Committee approves $20M increase for prisons

contributed photo An attack that left two dead at the Anamosa State Penitentiary has heightened debate over prison funding.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a $34.6 million increase in the proposed budget for state justice systems Wednesday, including what a lawmaker called “possibly a record increase” of $20.5 million for state prison salaries and staffing.

Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, called the proposal a “culmination” of his 11 years overseeing this budget. “It’s not 100 percent optimal but it’s getting dang close,” he said.

The proposal would increase full-time equivalent positions by 13 across the entire system. The Anamosa Correctional Facility, where two staff members were killed in what the Department of Corrections said was an attack by inmates, would receive a $1.8 million increase.

Democrats, however, argued the amount proposed for new positions and salaries is inadequate given years of underfunding.

Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said state prisons are 10 percent over capacity and are understaffed by 9 percent. He pointed to a March incident at the Anamosa State Penitentiary that left two staff members dead.

“This is the first time an inmate has killed a guard in one of our correctional facilities since 1972. This is a conversation that’s overdue and it is compounded over many years. And we’re seeing the tragic symptoms of underinvestment in a public safety arena,” Hall said.

Worthan said out of 3,671 positions allowed throughout the corrections system, 80 positions are unfunded and 203 others were in the hiring process. At Anamosa, he said, 288 out of 311 approved positions were filled as of the last pay period and 15 were in the process of hiring.

“Anamosa, by any stretch of imagination, was not understaffed,” Worthan said, and jabbed at those trying to “make political hay” out of the tragedy.

He said having 200 to 250 open positions across the prison system is “standard operating procedure,” because of turnover and the need for training that slows down the process of filling vacancies.

Gov. Kim Reynolds promised Wednesday that the state would conduct an external investigation into the attack in addition to an internal Department of Corrections review. When asked whether Anamosa was understaffed, Reynolds said the review would reveal what changes are necessary at the facility.

“Changes may require additional investments, something that I am fully committed to doing, and this includes making sure that the department and its facilities are adequately staffed,” she said.

The Department of Corrections will create a new director of prison security position to monitor and improve security practices, Reynolds said. The department will also hold forums for prison staff to comment on their working conditions.

Worthan encouraged members of the committee to lobby their senators to maintain the level of increase provided in the bill. Senate Republicans have not yet released their proposed budget for justice systems. Reynolds’ budget released in January proposed a $5 million increase for state prisons, which she noted was calculated before any collective bargaining took place with the AFSCME union.

The bill passed the committee on a 14-9, party-line vote. It moves to the House floor for consideration.

Committee approves $20 million increase for prisons as Reynolds promises Anamosa investigation

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