Updated: Mar 10
I have submitted the following letter to various members of the House and Senate in regards to the recently adopted amendment to Representative Field's HB 187:
My name is Angela Hall, and I am the founder of Supporting Our Loved Ones Group (S.O.L.O.G.), a support group for the family and friends of incarcerated Alaskans. I am also the wife of an individual serving a virtual life* (50 plus years) sentence in the State of Alaska.
As a family member that would be directly impacted by the amendment sponsored by Representative Sharon Jackson to Representative Field's proposed HB 187, I felt it necessary to state for the record that I, and members of S.O.L.O.G. are opposed to this amendment.
Historically, the Alaska Department of Corrections has made it a practice to contract with private prisons and send our incarcerated loved ones out of state. It has never been in the best interest of our incarcerated loved ones, or the families that are torn apart in the process. Contrary to the misconception that those serving virtual life sentences have little to no family support, and therefore it is perfectly fine to banish them from the State of Alaska for decades, I am here to say that simply is not true. Many families felt it necessary to move from state to state just to maintain ties with their incarcerated loved ones as they were shipped from Arizona to Colorado and back to Alaska, only to wait in limbo for the next round of out of state contracting to see where their loved ones would be sent next.
While on the surface the plan to contract with out of state facilities for the housing of virtual lifers may sound reasonable and lauded as a cost saving measure, there are several key points that should be taken into consideration.
It is detrimental to the incarcerated individuals who will most certainly be housed in substandard conditions. It has already been proven that private prisons are lacking in every aspect, including but not limited to rehabilitative programs and properly trained staff. HB187 was drafted on the premise that private prison utilization is not acceptable for Alaska's incarcerated population, why then would it now be acceptable for the virtual lifer subset of that same population? (It should be noted that a significant portion of this population is comprised of individuals sentenced as juveniles to 99 plus years, something that will likely be ruled a violation of the 8th amendment by the Supreme Court through future litigation). This sends a clear message that those serving virtual life sentences are being categorized as of less value than the rest of the prison population and that they are somehow expendable. Our loved ones are human beings, not simply a commodity to be placed on a back shelf and forgotten in some misguided attempt at cost savings. The virtual lifer population do have families and great potential for rehabilitation and contributions to society for the duration of their incarceration, just as ALL other incarcerated persons have.
Please consider the fact that this language would give sole discretion to the Department of Corrections as to which individuals would be transferred out of state, and although this amendment includes the language "who does not have family for whom family visitation is important for the emotional development of a child who lives in Alaska", this will not prevent the Department from sending individuals with other family ties in Alaska. They have in the past and will continue to send whomever they deem eligible despite leaving behind wives, mothers, fathers and siblings in addition to those children who are desperately trying to remain a part of their lives. For those that take the position that this is irrelevant due to the choices made by the incarcerated person to break the law, I would argue that punishing the family members was not part of sentencing and yet it is an unfortunate biproduct of incarceration. We suffer the loss of their daily presence in our lives, the stigma associated with making the decision to continue supporting them throughout their incarceration, and the added financial burden associated with overpriced phone calls and visitation travel expenses. Is it necessary to compound that suffering by sending our loved ones further away thereby creating even greater hardship? The positive impact family support has on successful rehabilitation efforts has already been discussed and proven time and time again.
This language does not stipulate that eligible virtual lifers must be housed together with fellow Alaskans as one unit, therefore they may be housed wherever and with whomever the Department of Corrections contracts with. I cannot begin to tell you how dangerous and detrimental to our loved ones such a scenario would be, and has proven to be, from past practices.
I implore you to begin viewing Alaska's incarcerated population as human beings rather than simply numbers and statistics on budget presentations and fiscal notes.
For these reasons, and numerous others not mentioned for consideration of your time, we ask that you reconsider the decision to allow the Department of Corrections to house incarcerated persons serving virtual life sentences out of state in private prisons.
*a sentence of 50 years or longer becomes a virtual life sentence..https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/virtual-life-sentences/
-- Angela Hall(907) 315-25732020 JustLeadershipUSA"Leading with Conviction" Leader