LAWMAKER: FUNDING CRISIS THREATENS IOWA PRISON SAFETY
8:40 AM, Apr 11, 2011 | by William Petroski |
Categories: Iowa Politics Insider
Iowa’s prison system, which has topped 9,000 inmates for the first time ever, is facing a short-term funding crisis which could create a dangerous situation for prison employees, a key Democratic lawmaker warned today.
Sen. Tom Hancock, D-Epworth, chairman of the Iowa Senate’s Justice Systems Budget Subcommittee, said that early in this year’s legislative session Gov. Terry Branstad requested a supplemental appropriation for the Iowa Department of Corrections. The Republican-controlled Iowa House has approved a spending bill, and so has the Iowa Senate. But each bill is different, and those differences haven’t been reconciled, he cautioned.
The state’s prison system needs a short-term infusion of $11.4 million in state funds, Hanock said.
“Unless we get this job done, Iowa’s state prisons will run out of money at the end of May and prison employees will be laid off,” Hancock said. “I’m concerned that the lack of basic agreement between Governor Branstad and the Republican leaders of the Iowa House that is preventing the state from paying its bills with regard to indigent defense will also affect the operation of our prisons. It is time for both sides to settle their differences and get serious about governing.”
Hancock’s reference to indigent defense was related to the fact that House Republicans last week rejected the Senate’s unanimous agreement to allocate $18.6 million and pay overdue bills to Iowans who provide legal services to low-income people and teens accused of crime.It means that weeks of budget disagreements continue and hundreds of Iowans who represent some of the state’s most vulnerable residents in court will continue to go unpaid.
Branstad said he disagrees with House Republicans and said transferring money from other areas of the budget is inappropriate because such tactics should only be used in emergencies.
Hancock noted that Iowa prisons are overcrowded at 25% above design capacity and the number of inmates is growing while staffing levels are falling. Staffing is currently at about 2,820, a drop from 3,064 in fiscal 2009.
“We are on the verge of going from failing to pay bills owed to hundreds of Iowa small businesses to endangering the lives of the prison guards who keep us safe,” said Hancock. “It is time to put the needs of Iowans first.”