FORT MADISON, Iowa (AP) — The prison that houses Iowa's most dangerous offenders has seen a sharp increase of inmates using and possessing synthetic drugs in what a union is calling the worst infiltration in its history.
The Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison has changed its procedures related to inmate mail and visiting in order to prevent more of the drugs from getting inside, the Iowa Department of Corrections said Monday.
Staff have also been given information about how to identify the substances, including the drug known as K2. Multiple inmates who have been found to use or possess the drugs are facing disciplinary action, which can include the loss of earned time and detention.
The confirmation of the increase in drugs comes after a union representing correctional officers said Friday that 12 inmates have been connected to drugs such as K2 in the past two weeks. The union, AFSCME Council 61, warned that the drug infiltration was creating a dangerous situation for staff and inmates, some of whom were combative and had suffered serious health effects after nearly overdosing on the drug.
Union president Danny Homan said that staff members have reported inmates who have been found incoherent in their cells with head injuries from falling, pretending to be swimming on the floor, covered in vomit and with extremely high blood pressure. He said that two officers reported suffering headaches after recently having to drag an inmate out of a cell that was thick with smoke and "overpowering" smell of the drugs.
"This is rampant inside this institution," Homan said. "I'm deeply concerned with the officers who are being put in harm's way because of a controlled substance being inside the walls at the maximum-security prison. We don't know how an inmate is going to react when they are on the substance. When does it turn violent? When do they start attacking staff?"
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lettie Prell said the agency shares the union's concerns about the issue and was "successfully managing the situation." She said an investigation is looking into how the drugs got inside the prison. She said K2 has been confirmed in some cases while others remain under investigation.
Prell declined comment on the changes to mail and visiting, citing security reasons.
K2 is a mixture of herbs and spices that is typically sprayed with a synthetic compound that is similar to the ingredients in marijuana. The drug is typically smoked in joints or pipes, but is considered dangerous to purchase due to concerns about the chemical makeup.