Update: Officials confirm Iowa State Penitentiary blueprints were stolen last week

Trish Mehaffey
Published: June 25 2013 | 6:28 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 5:04 pm in

A break in occurred at the construction site of the new Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison last week, officials said late Tuesday in response to a labor union's news release, claiming under staffing is affecting safety in the prisons.

Fred Scaletta, Iowa Department of Corrections assistant director, said in a statement laptops and tools were stolen from construction trailers near the fenced prison site last Wednesday. "Facility drawings" were also included in the missing software. The Fort Madison Police Department, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Iowa State Police Investigation Unit are handling the investigation.

Danny Homan, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 president, said in a statement that if blueprints were stolen it was a "major security breach" that would threaten the safety of the staff and public.

"Additionally, I have learned that shanks (homemade knives) were discovered hidden inside a roll of crackers at Iowa State Penitentiary," Homan said in the statement. Despite this discovery and Monday's discovery of hand-crafted ropes hidden at (the penitentiary), Gov. Branstad and Director Baldwin have refused to acknowledge that there is a severe security crisis in the state of Iowa's correctional institutions and that critically low staffing and the administration's poor communication with staff are the reasons for this crisis."

Scaletta said there is an open door policy at the prison for all staff to address their concerns and ideas to improve operations with administrators.

"Mr. Homan's inference that contraband occurs as a result of alleged staffing deficiencies is inaccurate and unfounded," Scaletta said.

Earlier Tuesday, Scaletta said the penitentiary remained on restricted movement after staff found hand-made ropes and other items in a cell house that could have be used for a possible prison escape Monday.

Scaletta said the incident remained under investigation after staff during a routine search found a 17-foot rope and bottle containing an unknown substance were recovered from an attic space and in a second search of the area a 10-foot rope and another bottle of an unknown substance were found.

Scaletta said the ropes were made out of braided sheets. Other items also discovered were sheets, blankets, gloves and sand paper. The unknown substances are being tested but they haven't be identified at this time.

Homan said at that time that "this is another symptom of the woeful under staffing" of the prisons.

"Iowa's correctional staff do excellent work, however, there are simply too few of them," Homan said in the statement. "When staffing is this low, there are less eyes and ears on inmates and regular staff duties are completed less frequently. Inmates are clearly aware of the low staffing levels and it is not surprising that some of them are choosing to take advantage of weakened security that puts inmates, staff and the public at risk."

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