DES MOINES | While Iowa is among the nation’s safest places to live, the state’s prison system chief expressed concern Wednesday over a federal report indicating Iowa is one of only two states where homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults rose over a decade.
Jerry Bartruff, director of the Iowa Department of Corrections, said the numbers may be “somewhat skewed” given that Iowa is a small state with a low crime rate, so percentage increases appear to amplify the data.
Nonetheless, he said he found the higher arrests over the past 10 years in all four major categories of violent crime covered by the latest FBI crime report to be “almost shocking.”
“Because we’re fairly safe in Iowa, any increase in the percentages looks huge,” Bartruff said in presenting his agency’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal to Gov. Kim Reynolds. But he said he was concerned there was a sizable spike in violent crimes being committed in rural areas as well as an uptick in Des Moines.
Iowa’s other metro areas, though, generally showed declines.
Another statistic that troubled the director was a slow but steady rise in the number of paroled prisoners who commit another violent crime. With that number also “creeping up,” Bartruff worried that Iowa’s prison population currently at 8,286 inmates could rise, as well as the cost of incarcerating people in Iowa’s nine prisons.
Currently, he said Iowa’s incarceration rate of 281 inmates per 100,000 is considerably lower than Missouri (530), South Dakota (413), Indiana (412), Illinois (360) and Kansas (328) and sought a “status quo” funding level of $378.7 million. The only new request he made was a $1 million increase to cover pharmaceutical costs.
The union that represents correctional officers and other workers in state prisons and community-based corrections repeatedly has asked for staffing increases beyond the current 3,742 full-time positions. But Bartruff told reporters, “we think that we have adequate staffing to take care of incidents as they occur.”
Last month, Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, cited incidents at prisons in Fort Madison, Coralville and Clarinda in which correctional workers were injured in inmate attacks or had to quell “multiple race-fueled fights.”
Wednesday, Homan characterized Bartruff’s assertion that staffing levels are adequate as dangerously false.
“The drastic increase in staff being viciously assaulted over the past months prove the ignorance of this claim. Every single one of these incidents, including an officer being stabbed five times with two 10-inch shanks, is tied to woefully inadequate staffing levels,” he said in a statement. “ ... Director Bartruff ought to be more concerned with the safety of those in his department and less about kissing the governor’s ring.”