Des Moines, Iowa — Today US Rep. Cindy Axne, Iowa House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, and Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls sent a letter to federal officials requesting an independent investigation into last month’s deadly assaults at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, as well as the increasing violence within Iowa’s correctional facilities.
In the letter to the US Attorney General and US Secretary of Labor, the Iowa lawmakers outlined the ways in which Governor Reynolds and Iowa Department of Corrections have disregarded and dismissed several warning signs leading up to this tragedy. The signs include: rising violence, prison overcrowding, staff reductions and continued budget cuts. As two inmates attempted to escape the Anamosa State Penitentiary on March 23, they violently killed correctional officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte.
Last year, the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (I-OSHA) issued numerous warnings and serious violations to DOC for inadequate communication and prison staffing. One I-OSHA report warned Anamosa employees did not have reliable communication equipment or adequate staff for emergency responses. Instead of fixing the problems identified, the DOC began denying state inspectors access to facilities for fair and independent safety assessments.
“Last month’s attack at Anamosa highlights the risks facing our workers if adequate emergency procedures and other measures are not in place to protect them. We owe it to these employees and their families to seek an independent investigation that will uncover all of the facts of this tragic incident and ensure we have clear answers for what went wrong and what can be done to better protect Iowa’s workers,” said Representative Cindy Axne.
“This terrible tragedy should never have happened. We know the Reynolds Administration ignored the warning signs for years, failed to take action, and even proposed denying additional safety inspections in our correctional facilities. It’s time for an independent investigation that’s completely outside the control of the Reynolds Administration,” said House Minority Leader Todd Prichard.
“The Governor’s reaction to last month’s tragic events is yet another example of her failed leadership. How can Iowans expect Republican leaders to keep our state safe if Republicans can’t even keep state workers safe? The Reynolds Administration should have immediately requested an independent, outside investigation. Because she was unwilling to do so, today, we are calling on the Federal government to intervene and take on that responsibility. Iowans need to know the truth about what is happening in our prisons,” said Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls.