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Iowa DOC Shake-Up

The Iowa DOC administration under director Sally Chandler Halford is taking a "get tough" position against prisoners. Up for a tough reconfirmation next year by the senate, the director plans to shake-up the whole system in the wake of recent incidents within the Iowa system.

The changes by the DOC were discussed Sept. 6 with the Iowa Board of Corrections and include: issuing new prisoner uniforms; eliminating all personal clothing "down to the socks" (even shorts and sweats); using plastic containers and doing away with the inmate purchased locker boxes; and, waging a court battle to toughen conditions for inmates in the hole at the state penitentiary in Ft. Madison.

The DOC has been plagued this year with incidents. The Iowa State Penitentiary was put on lockdown after a guard shot a prisoner July 18 when he tried to escape during a medical trip to University Hospitals in Iowa City. The lockdown reason was 'to head off hostile reactions." On July 23 a disturbance by 13 prisoners at the still locked down penitentiary had to be quelled by armed guards when fires were set on walkways outside of cells and cells were trashed. On August 4 a guard at the penitentiary was stabbed while serving lunch. Penitentiary officials conducted a cell by cell search and found more that 100 weapons during the lockdown, including shanks up to 20 inches long and zip guns.

Governor Branstad, on August 5, commended prison officials for their handling of the lockdown and the stabbing of the guard at ISP. The governor used the incidents for his quest to reinstate the death penalty, saying that the death penalty would help ease tensions.

The lockdown at the penitentiary was partially lifted on August 12. On August 19 a guard at the new medium security prison in Clarinda was attacked by a prisoner. On Sept. 5 a prisoner at the Medical & Classification Center at Oakdale was stabbed in the back with a table knife while in the reception exercise yard after only two days in prison. On Sept. 9 all knives (including plastic) were removed from the dining area at the Mt. Pleasant Corr. Fac. (and presumably at other prisons across Iowa).

During the first weekend of Sept. a group of five prisoners attempted to escape from the exercise yard at the new prison in Clarinda. They set off an alarm and were caught. The prison, which opened in April, was designed for 750 prisoners but already houses almost 900.

In the most controversial incident, on August 29 the warden at ISP in Ft. Madison was fired by the director, after only 13 months on the job, for allowing six prisoners to transfer to New Mexico in a prisoner exchange. Of the prisoners five are serving life sentences. The prisoners were transported by a private company, R & S Prison Transport Service, who sent an unarmed husband and wife team in one van.

On August 28, despite instructions from prison officials not to stop anywhere other than prisons and jails, the transport officers stopped at a rest area in Texas for a break. There the prisoners, labeled six of some of the worst in Iowa, overpowered the guards and took them hostage, leading authorities on a two hour chase at speeds over 100 mph before their recapture. The quick apprehension was due to a citizen that witnessed the incident and called the authorities. Director Halford signed the contract with R & S Prison Transport on August 1st (which contract has since been canceled).

The warden was fired because he was at the prison and shouldn't have let the prisoners get in the van with only two unarmed guards, even though they had a contract to transport them. An example used was when officers from a transport company showed up at the Polk County Jail in Des Moines, Iowa smelling of alcohol and the jail refused to relinquish custody of the prisoners over to the transport company officers. Director Halford said that she wasn't notified so the responsibility lies with the fired warden.

The governor supported the director's decision to fire the warden, not even four weeks after commending the warden on a job well done in the handling of the lockdown and guard stabbing.

Sources: Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier, Des Moines Register

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