Des Moines, Iowa — Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed public records requests with Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC). Those 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 concerned to see state agencies' lack of transparency regarding COVID-19, specifically, how agencies are making critical decisions that affect the health of potentially every person in Iowa," said ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen. "Transparency is an essential aspect of government accountability during these unprecedented times. Access to these types of public records has never been more important to maintaining our democracy than now, when the government is operating with significant emergency powers."
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 the more than 8,000 people in Iowa's overcrowded prisons. Additionally, approximately 500 people are employed by Iowa prisons. Yet Iowa prisons remain extremely overcrowded. The DOC reported today that the prison population had been reduced from 8,495 inmates on March 6 to 8,162, still nearly 18 percent over the prisons’ design capacity.
In prisons elsewhere in the country, where extensive testing has taken place, in some cases more than half the inmates tested positive. In Iowa, only a handful of inmates have been tested, besides those in Iowa's one medical correctional facility.
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.
- Precede the outbreak of COVID-19 and evaluate possible outcomes or recommended actions in the event of a potential infectious disease outbreak within DOC 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.