Iowa Senate proposes $14 million less than House for prisons

By: - April 14, 2021 2:27 pm

An attack that left two dead at the Anamosa State Penitentiary has heightened debate over prison funding. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Department of Corrections)

The Iowa Senate proposed a $6.2 million increase to the Department of Corrections following a deadly attack at Anamosa, an allocation $14 million shy of the House’s proposal of more than $20 million. Democrats and union representatives say neither figure is adequate to improve Iowa’s prisons.

Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, led a Wednesday subcommittee on the justice system budget proposal. The state would allocate a total of $595.6 million to Iowa’s justice system, which includes the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Corrections. It would be a $10.2 million increase from fiscal year 2021, Garrett said, of which an additional $6.2 million would go toward Iowa’s prisons.

Danny Homan, president of the AFSCME union that represents correctional officers, told lawmakers that the increase was insufficient to deal with “the grossly understaffed condition” of Iowa prisons.

He cited the March 23 incident at the Anamosa prison. According to Department of Corrections, two inmates attacked two prison staff members with hammers, killing them.

“If we don’t fix this problem, there will be more … We would like to see a budget passed to ensure what happened in Anamosa never happens again,” he said.

Sen. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, cited a morning head count from Iowa’s prisons, which he said were nearly 10% over capacity.

Garrett responded that Wednesday’s budget proposal was the first step of negotiations between the House and the Senate, and that $6.2 million was a “substantial increase.” He also noted investigations into the Anamosa incident are underway that might reveal what additional support is needed.

“I don’t know at this point that we can conclude that if there had been additional staff at the institutions, that the killings wouldn’t have happened,” Garrett said. 

The committee voted 11-8 to move the budget proposal.

Iowa lawmakers are coming up on the final weeks of the session, leaving them just the remainder of April to compromise on a budget.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday also approved a $106.9 million infrastructure budget. The proposal would include additional funding for public safety vehicles, the ChildServe program for special needs kids and sports tourism.

The bill changes the sports tourism language so that professional sports leagues can receive state funding. Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, asked whether the change was meant to channel funding toward the Des Moines soccer stadium, a project spearheaded by Kyle Krause, founder of Kum & Go convenience stores. The Krause Group lobbied in favor of the bill.

“I just have a big concern about us putting together a little cookie jar of $1.5 million for a professional sports team,” Petersen said. “I think that those dollars could be better allocated to meet the needs of more Iowans.”

Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, led a subcommittee on the bill. He said the money would be allocated through a competitive process and that the funds were not earmarked for any particular project.

The infrastructure budget also includes $17 million to continue the state’s transition onto Workday. The transition began in October of 2019, when Gov. Kim Reynolds approved the first half of a $50 million contract with the software company. After Reynolds was rebuffed from using federal COVID-19 relief money to pay for the contract, lawmakers in February voted to allocate the first $21 million for fiscal year 2021. The $17 million proposed Wednesday would be for fiscal year 2022, which begins on July 1.

The Appropriations Committee voted 11-8 to move the bill. Both the infrastructure and justice system budgets are eligible for consideration on the Senate floor.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.