Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Government transparency about how state officials are handling COVID-19 in our state prisons is crucial. That’s why the ACLU has filed public records requests with Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC).

These Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seek information on what state leaders knew about the potential impacts of COVID-19 on Iowa prisons and the communities surrounding them, as well as information on how officials are handling the crisis to minimize its harms on inmates, staff, and the public.

The ACLU has been urging state leaders and the Department of Corrections to take a number of measures, including early release of certain inmates, to prevent the spread of the disease among more than 8,000 incarcerated people and approximately 500 people employed by Iowa prisons. 

Yet Iowa prisons remain extremely overcrowded. The DOC reports that the prison population has been reduced from 8,495 inmates on March 6 to 8,162 today, but that still is nearly 18 percent over the prisons’ design capacity.

Specifically, the ACLU is asking for records that:

  • Estimate or predict COVID-19 infection rates and mortality among people living and working in DOC facilities.
  • Discuss risk of spreading COVID-19 to the communities surrounding DOC facilities via movement of staff and incarcerated people in and out of those facilities.
  • Discuss any actions that would address the risk of COVID-19 for people living and working in facilities and the likely outcomes of those actions.
  • Relate to confirmed COVID-related infections and COVID-related deaths among people living and working in DOC facilities.
  • Discuss COVID-related complaints or grievances made by people incarcerated or detained in DOC facilities, including grievances regarding access to hygiene, protective equipment, or other risks of exposure.
  • All COVID-related communications or complaints between or among DOC facility supervisors and their staff regarding staff access to hygiene, protective equipment, or other risks of exposure to COVID-19 within the facilities.
  • Identify the model(s) or algorithm(s) upon which the Governor has relied upon from January 1, 2020, through the time of the response to this request, to estimate or predict COVID-19 infection rates and likely mortality throughout the state.

The FOIA request in full can be found here.