Family of slain Anamosa prison officer call for legislative action

DES MOINES — The family of the correctional officer murdered nearly a year ago by two Anamosa prison inmates is urging legislators to give prison employees more workplace rights and more on the job protection. Robert McFarland’s widow, Sara McFarland, spoke at a news conference in Anamosa.

“No other spouse, no other family can get this call,” McFarland said, “the call that I did.”

Cathie McFarland said her son “paid the ultimate price” for doing his job and the employees still working in the prison system need a lot of help.

“I want the people who work in there to be safe,” she said. “I want them to go home to their families.”

One bill introduced in the Iowa House has been named the Robert McFarland Act. Another is named in honor of Lorena Schulte, the prison nurse who was murdered, and staffer Lorrie Matthes, who was taken hostage. The bills require the state to provide health care benefits to the spouse and children of prison staff killed on the job and to provide up to 30 days of paid leave if a staffer witnesses a traumatic event at work. The bills also call for employees in the Iowa Department of Corrections to have the same collective bargaining rights as public safety workers, like state troopers.

Robert McFarland’s brother, Dave, said the family made a promise to do what they can to make change. “How many more officers must die or be assaulted? What will it take for people to realize this is not a Republican thing, this is not a Democratic thing?” he asked. “This is an us thing.”

The bills would increase the penalty for assaulting a prison employee to a class D felony and would increase funding for contraband screening inside prison walls. Due to last week’s deadline for action on policy bills, these proposals would have to be tacked onto other legislation in order to be voted upon this year.

The two inmates convicted of murdering McFarland and Schulte have been sent to prisons out of state to serve their life terms.