The Iowa Department of Corrections is doing its part to help in the production of personal protection equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer as the state deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Anamosa State Penitentiary is no exception.
According to Iowa Prison Industries, Anamosa State Penitentiary is the main production site for face shields as the Iowa Department of Corrections shifts production to help create needed materials. According to Anamosa State Penitentiary Associate Warden Al Reiter, who oversees Iowa Prisons Industries at the penitentiary, with elastic materials having longer lead times as the penitentiary began production, they procured Velcro instead for the making of face shields.
According to Reiter, the penitentiary can produce approximately 1,200 face shields per day with the initial request being for 10,000 face shields. Where the shields end up, depend on where it’s determined there’s the greatest need.
“The state command center has identified tier 1 state agencies most critical to get our products, which includes (Iowa) Veterans Home, Department of Human Services, statewide childcare facilities and Department of Corrections,” Reiter said. “They are prioritized based on their expected usage and our ability to resupply their stock.”
But that’s not the only way the Anamosa State Penitentiary is helping to meet needs as it’s been all hands-on deck.
While hand sanitizer production is centered at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, the local penitentiary has pitched in as well.
“Initially, our housekeeping/laundry chemical division quickly ramped up production of various sanitizers and disinfectants labeled to kill COVID-19,” Reiter said. “They are also supplying materials and packaging for the hand sanitizer operations that started up in Mitchellville at the Iowa Corrections Institute for Women (ICIW).”
Iowa Department of Corrections Communications Manager Cord Overton said that partners like the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Templeton Rye Distillery, Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division, the Food and Drug Administration, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the Governor’s Office have been crucial to ensuring that the department can get sanitizer produced.
“The staff and the incarcerated men and women of the Iowa Department of Corrections and Iowa Prison Industries are diligently working to help fight back against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Overton said.
“When it comes to the staff and incarcerated men and women working around the clock to produce these vital supplies, they’re glad to be working. These men and women all have families and loved ones on the outside. They know that their efforts are helping keep those that they love, as well as other Iowans, safe.”
At the penitentiary, the graphics department has assisted by printing out labels for containers and safety data sheets, and the sewing department is assisting with making Olson-style masks.
The metal working department has stayed busy by making tables for ICIW and for a new feature internally: tables for hosting virtual visiting time. Prisons were among the first places to prohibit visitors, halting all visitations March 14. With visitors prohibited until the pandemic subsides, the penitentiary began preparations to allow virtual visitations.
The penitentiary has not had video visitation capabilities before, but after doing some training and testing, the system went live April 10. Inmates go to the visiting room like normal but are given Chromebooks to visit with approved individuals.
Anamosa State Penitentiary Warden Jeremy Larson said while he hasn’t been involved in the day-to-day production discussions, he has been in constant coordination and communication with other prisons across the state, including daily meetings.
Those inside the prison are taking the same precautions as the rest of the state and the country, encouraging social distancing and limiting large groups. Masks have been given to both incarcerated individuals and staff members.
Making sure everyone at the penitentiary is as safe and healthy as possible, remains the top priority.
“We just keep pushing the universal precautions,” Larson said. “We really are doing everything we can to protect staff and incarcerated individuals from getting this virus…That’s our number one concern right now is keeping everyone safe and healthy.”