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Iowa won’t commit to letting public see prison review
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Iowa won’t commit to letting public see prison review

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Prison Staff Killed Iowa

File-This Dec. 25, 2017, file photo shows Anamosa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa. A nurse and a correctional officer at the Anamosa State Penitentiary in eastern Iowa died Tuesday, March 23, 2021, after an inmate attacked multiple staff members and other inmates, state officials said. (Liz Martin/The Gazette via AP, File)

The Iowa Department of Corrections is seeking a vendor to review all parts of its prison system, from staffing and inmate classification to the safety of buildings where more than 8,000 criminal offenders are housed.

The request for proposals, which closed Wednesday, says the vendor that is chosen will provide a final report by Dec. 1. But the Corrections Department won’t confirm whether the findings will be available to the public.

“I’m unable to answer that question this time,” Corrections Department Spokesman Cord Overton said in an email.

The institutional review follows the March 23 attack in which two offenders at the Anamosa State Penitentiary are accused of bludgeoning to death correctional Officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte in an escape attempt.

Inmates Michael Dutcher and Thomas Woodard — now facing first-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping and attempted murder charges — also are accused of briefly taking another staffer, Lorie Matthes, hostage and seriously injuring McKinley Roby, an offender who tried to help McFarland and Schulte.

“The IDOC has suffered a tremendous loss with the murder of two staff members at the Anamosa State Penitentiary,” the state’s request for qualified vendors states. “This tragedy has necessitated that a thorough analysis be conducted of all aspects of correctional operations.”

There are several other investigations following the attack:

  • The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is doing the criminal probe of the attack for prosecution of Dutcher and Woodard.
  • Corrections officials requested counterparts from South Dakota and Minnesota visit April 13-16 to investigate “the incident and circumstances leading up to it.”
  • Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the department after complaints about problems with the radio system prison staff use to communicate with each other.

“Part of the multiple investigations and reviews taking place is to identify many areas for improvement, so that investments can be made as strategically as possible,” Overton said. “This includes improvements in equipment, training, policies/procedures, physical plants and staffing. The main priority right now is learning as much as possible about areas where investments or changes can be made that will make the prison system safer for all of our staff.”

The scope of services requested includes a review of inmate management practices, such as work opportunities, supervision and tool inventory. Dutcher and Woodard, who worked on Anamosa’s maintenance crew, gained access to an employee break room under the guise of doing repairs and killed Schulte and McFarland with prison-issued hammers, investigators said.

The state wants the vendor to examine Iowa’s nine prison buildings for security vulnerabilities and “appropriateness for use in housing the population designated for that site,” the request states. Woodard and Dutcher attempted to use a metal grinder to get through bars outside the prison windows, investigators said.

The review also will cover the number of staff at Iowa’s prisons, the possibility of using alternative shifts, such as 10- or 12-hour shifts, overtime, absenteeism and training. Iowa Democratic lawmakers have asked for more than $34 million in new money to fill more than 500 vacant Corrections positions.

Another Corrections request for proposals that closed this week seeks a body orifice security scanner for the Anamosa prison. These scanners, which look like chairs and cost about $11,000, are promoted as a nonintrusive way to check inmates for metal objects that could be used as weapons.

The Anamosa prison remains on modified lockdown, which means offender education and apprenticeship programs have been stalled for more than six weeks.

New prison security director named

The Corrections Department on Friday named Brian Foster as security operations director, a new position. Foster has held a similar job within the Wisconsin Department of Corrections after working in prisons since 1985, according to a news release.

When Foster starts the job May 24, his role will be to assess the prisons for security improvements and make recommendations to the wardens.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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