The following is a legislative update from State Senator Amanda Ragan, representing Iowa Senate District 27 which includes portions of Cerro Gordo, Mitchell and Worth counties, as well as Rock Grove and Rockford townships in Floyd County:
One of the primary responsibilities of the Legislature is to ensure Iowans are safe in their homes and communities.
That mission is even more urgent as Iowa’s workforce crisis hits public safety at all levels, including our local police departments, Iowa State Patrol and the prison system.
Law enforcement officers play an important role in keeping Iowans safe. The same goes for our prison employees, who help keep dangerous people off our streets.
Understaffing has put these workers—and all Iowans—in grave danger way too often in recent years.
Prisons & public safety
According to a system-wide security and safety review of the Iowa Department of Corrections, inadequate staffing levels and significant recruitment and retention problems are straining Iowa’s prison system.
Iowa prisons are overcrowded, understaffed and dangerous. Staffing shortages persist, despite the Legislature approving a bipartisan and long-overdue increase to the corrections budget in 2021.
Violence in Iowa prisons has been on the rise for years. This month alone, three correctional officers were assaulted by inmates and suffered injuries at two different correctional facilities.
Iowa State Patrol
Iowa currently has 360 State Patrol troopers, which is a big drop from the 455 troopers on Iowa roads in 2000. Fewer troopers mean fewer motorists get the assistance they need, fewer crashes are investigated, and fewer drunken drivers are apprehended on our highways and interstates.
A “big picture” look at improving public safety
Other areas that can address the workforce crisis in public safety include:
- Restoring bargaining rights for corrections officers and other public employees. This will help Iowa attract and retain dedicated public servants throughout the state. In 2017, Republican lawmakers stripped away the rights of many of these workers to bargain for their own safety on the job.
- Fully funding crime victim services so that they get the professional help and protections they need. It also frees up law enforcement officers to spend more time investigating crimes and bringing criminals to justice.
- Putting resources toward community violence intervention and behavioral health first responders who work alongside local law enforcement officers to address mental health crises and other community safety concerns.
If the Legislature and Governor fully fund these and other public safety initiatives, we can make Iowa a safer place to live, work and raise a family.