I could not imagine anyone was truly surprised by the latest announcement to transfer Alaskan incarcerated persons out of State. Under the Dunleavy Administration, it has been a team goal from the day he was deemed the winner of the election. Yet, there are some who actually appear to be flabbergasted that after months of discussion on the subject, the decision to contract out of state is once again moving forward. To those folks I say, look back to the last time they made the very same decision and you find many similarities.
Oh I do believe some legislators made a determined effort to block this from occurring, but as one legislator asked during one of the committee hearings "Does the Department of Corrections need the legislature's permission to send prisoners out of state?", the answer was unequivocally "NO". I knew then it was only a matter of time.
You see Governor Dunleavy knew his push to repeal the Criminal Omnibus Bill [SB91] would create a situation of mass incarceration for the State of Alaska, and the inevitable overcrowding within the facilities would necessitate the need for private contracting out of state as a result, and he was all for it! Why? Well only Dunleavy and his cronies can answer that, but many of us have our personal thoughts on that. His State of the State speech regarding his "War on Criminals" [which is also a "War on families" by the way], should have been your first clue as to how this would play out for the state. It isn't rocket science folks, if you create laws to imprison individuals for greater lengths of time, coupled with laws to imprison people for transgressions that could have been otherwise resolved with fines and community service and justify it as public safety, you are bound to create an overburdened prison system that the state cannot afford to fund. We know this because the rest of the Country has already come to this conclusion and states have begun in earnest to take steps towards ending mass incarceration through honest efforts at criminal justice reform. It involves research, education and acceptance that the old way of doing things simply isn't working, therefore, it is time to try something new.
Obviously, Alaska did not get the memo, or maybe they did, but they decided to chuck it into the waste basket because it seemed easier to appease the angry pitch fork wielding crowd more commonly known as "the constituency" that way. The answer was to repeal the only legislation that sought to address criminal justice reform rather than to look for ways to combat the growing opioid (and other substance use) epidemic within the state that resulted in a spike in crime. I'm not saying SB91 was perfect, but it was a start. It was flawed in that it did not include funding for substance use treatment and it put way too much faith in a computer algorithm over the intelligence and common sense of a human being when it came to determining risk factors. Then you factor in a statewide recession, a cut to law enforcement and the Court system and things are bound to get a bit hairy.
According to the keepers of the gates, there isn't enough funding available, nor time, to build a new facility, or even open a closed facility (Palmer) to prevent sending our loved ones out of state. I say OUR because I am fairly certain my own husband will be on the list of those chosen to go because he fits the criteria, and he was sent out of state the last go around for just shy of 20 years.
The newest facility, Goose Creek Correctional Center, was built to alleviate the need to send our loved ones out of state again. The project came at a huge cost, has been a constant disappointment to everyone since the doors opened in 2013, and it is now just about filled to capacity, along with every other facility in operation within the state, or at least that is what we are being told. The overburdened court system has a backlog of cases that has the state's pre-trial population bursting at the seams, which does nothing to help the situation. So, what's a State to do?
Until the Governor, the legislature and the Department of Corrections Administration make a firm commitment to explore workable sentencing and parole reform, everyone impacted by the criminal justice system will continue to suffer. That includes our incarcerated population, DOC staff and all of their families.
We're all in this together folks, whether you like it or not, everyone is affected by bad policy.