AFSCME Iowa Council 61 - Every Day. Everywhere. Making Iowa Better.

Staffing Crisis: AFSCME Members Rally for Staff Safety

The thoughts of AFSCME Local 451 members could be summed up in one word: “Enough.” After a fight in the dining room at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) resulted in injuries to four staff, two of whom had to seek medical treatment outside the facility, and the escape of two inmates from the Correctional Release Center at Newton Correctional Facility, they knew it was essential to raise public awareness of the challenges they face every day at work.

“We have been worried about staffing issues for a long time. After the fight in the dining hall, members came together to support everyone who was hurt. We knew that we had to make sure the public knew about our concerns about safety,” said Lisa Anderson, a Correctional Officer at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women and Local 451 member.

After discussions with council staff, a petition was created to call on the Iowa Department of Corrections to issue pepper spray to ICIW staff and to address critically low staffing in correctional facilities and community based corrections. Local 451 members recruited members, friends, and family to attend a Rally for Staff Safety outside the Department of Corrections Central Office.

At the rally, President Homan was able to announce that the Department of Corrections had reversed its position and will allow ICIW and North Central Correctional Facility staff to carry pepper spray like staff at all other DOC institutions. However, staffing remains critically low, which endangers staff, inmates, and the public. At the rally, President Homan said “no state facility should be understaffed. We need to provide the appropriate staff so that these hard working folks that are here behind me can go do their job in a safe environment.” He noted that massive declines in staffing had affected every DOC institution: for instance, Iowa State Penitentiary had 570 staff at the end of FY 2003, but only 394 staff at the end of FY 2015 (the last completed fiscal year).

“Lack of staffing is something that our members at Newton and Mitchellville have been facing every day. Staffing keeps getting less and less. I’m proud of everyone who took part in the rally - we are all in this together,” said Nate Ross, a Newton Correctional Facility Correctional Officer and Local 451 President.

President Homan also noted that staffing is a major challenge throughout government. He told how a known sexual predator was transferred to Independence Mental Health Institute. Due to a shortage of staff, a Resident Treatment Worker had to bathe this patient alone and was sexually assaulted by the patient.

At the conclusion of the rally, the petition with 601 signatures was delivered to Deputy Corrections Director Dan Craig.

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