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Iowa Ombudsman Calls Out DOC For Unfair Prisoner Discipline

by Kevin W. Bliss

The Iowa Ombudsman Office (IOO) released its Annual Report on December 15, 2022, calling out the state Department of Corrections (DOC) for unfairly addressing several difficulties it faces, including the abuse of K2 by prisoners.

Like many states, Iowa has struggled with the synthetic drug, which is easily smuggled into lockups. There it is cut into hundreds of doses and resold at a massive profit, making it extremely appealing to traffickers.

But field testing for K2 is not conclusive. Guards use field-test kits whose manufacturers state that results need to be confirmed in a certified laboratory. Since certain component chemical compounds of the drug are commonly found elsewhere, as well, false positives occur in about 38% of field tests.

Nevertheless, IOO found that many state prisoners lost privileges for alleged rule violations based solely on these undependable drug tests – without any confirmation by a lab. It recommended a change in DOC policy to verify field tests and reinstate lost privileges to prisoners when those laboratory results come back negative.

IOO also found inadequate policies to prevent interaction between protective custody (PC) prisoners and those housed in general population (GP). Institutional policy failed to protect at least one PC prisoner during transport for a routine medical call-out at a high-security state lockup; he was assaulted by a fellow prisoner, despite orders to keep them separate. To protect those in PC, the report stated that prison policies need to be revised so that transport to medical or other appointments avoids all contact with prisoners in GP.

Lastly, IOO found at least one prisoner was inappropriately denied a grievance appeal, after it was erroneously determined to be untimely filed. IOO said the appeal was timely filed – on July 8, 2022 – but the reviewing department did not stamp it received until July 16. The earlier date resulted in rejection, and it was unfair to the prisoner to deny relief when proper procedure was followed, IOO said. The report recommended that DOC change mailbox rules governing grievances or appeals to make sure timeliness determinations are based on the date the form is received and not the date it was submitted.

Source: Iowa Office Ombudsman Annual Report FY22

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