The tragic deaths of nurse Lorena Schulte and corrections officer Robert McFarland as a result of an inmate attack at the Anamosa state penitentiary last March brought to light what many officials in the state have pointed out as a severe shortage of workers in the Iowa Department of Corrections and a severe lack of benefits for existing employees. Iowa lawmakers recently took another step toward correcting these shortfalls as the Iowa House voted to add $21 million to the state corrections budget, and the state Senate then approved it on Tuesday according to the Des Moines Register.
It also voted to create a state-funded account to pay for the health insurance of the families of Schulte, McFarland, and others with loved ones in the position of working at Iowa's prisons.
How will the funding be allocated?
Lottery revenue of about $100,000 goes to a survivor benefits fund which entails nonprofits divvying out the funds.
The Department of Corrections itself, meanwhile, will see a $21 million increase to its overall budget to "assist our department in accomplishing our mission of providing secure prisons in order to create a safer Iowa", according to Corrections Department chief to staff Cord Overton.
When will the changes be enacted?
The new, $407.7 million corrections budget will take effect July 1 and the families of Schulte and McFarland will benefit immediately as the survivor benefits amended is retroactive to March 1.
One official said it still isn't enough. Danny Homan, who is the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, who represents Anamosa employees, said "this budget did not go nearly far enough in providing the number of staff, protections for the staff or equipment for staff necessary to keep our prisons safe."
Most agree that these steps forward are welcome if they serve to protect those who protect and serve in our communities.