On Oct. 15, the Alaska Department of Corrections announced plans to ship up to 500 Alaska prisoners Outside.
Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom said the decision “was not made lightly.”
She’s right. The decision was not made lightly. It was made last winter.
On Feb. 13, temporary budget director Donna Arduin told reporters in Juneau that the state planned to send 500 prisoners Outside, which she claimed would save $12.8 million.
Arduin announced Dunleavy’s decision in this budget document.
“Due to the lower costs for personnel, health care, utilities, and commodities, correctional institutions outside of Alaska are able to operate with lower costs. The Department of Corrections (DOC) plans to transfer a minimum of 500 prisoners to an out-of-state facility to reduce costs within the institutions. DOC estimates that can contract with an out-of-state facility with a bed rate at $95.00 per prisoner, per day, with an anticipated transfer of 500 prisoners. Savings from moving prisoners out of state is offset by cost of contractual services for a net savings to the department of $12.8 million,” Arduin’s department said.
In a Senate hearing later, Arduin corrected Sen. Bill Wielechowski on how to pronounce her name and did not give a complete accounting of her past work promoting the virtues of for-profit prisons. Wielechowski had said Arduin had been on the board of the GEO group., which was incorrect.
“It’s Arduin senator and I was not on the board of GEO. I have no connection with private prisons and I have not had any conversations with them,” she told Wielechowski.
What she did not say is that she had served on the board of a spinoff of the GEO Group—Correctional Properties Trust, later known as the CentraCore Properties Trust. She was named to this spinoff in 2004, less than two weeks after she left her temporary state budget job in California under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“GEO created Correctional Properties in 1998 as a real estate investment trust. Correctional Properties owns prisons; GEO operates them and makes lease payments to its spinoff,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 2005.
In a detailed report in 2011 about Arduin’s past in California and Florida with private prisons, the Center for Media and Democracy noted that when she worked for former Florida Gov. Rick Scott she championed a plan for a multi-billion-dollar budget cut, including privatizing prisons.
The Florida plan would cut prison costs by paying lower wages to corrections officers and having inmates grow their food. It faced court challenges and legislative opposition.
Since last winter the Dunleavy administraiton has made repeated efforts to ship prisoners Outside. And promoting private prisons has been a central feature of Arduin’s career, no matter what state she happens to be working in at the moment.
At the same time, the corrections department has downplayed or concealed its intentions.
On May 13, it submitted this document to lawmakers, claiming the Palmer Correction Center would hold the increase in prisoners this fiscal year that everyone knew was coming because the Dunleavy crime bill called for locking up more people: ”If the department’s projections are correct, it will need to reopen the currently shuttered Palmer Correctional Center (PCC) to accommodate the increased population. PCC has a general capacity of 503 inmates. In year two, when the department’s projections show exceeding the capacity in all facilities including PCC, the department will explore alternative options.”
The Dunleavy administration could have made opening the Palmer jail a priority even before the Legislature appropriated the money to put it back in operation.
Instead, the Dunleavy administration stuck with the Outside alternative, one that legislators have consistently opposed, for good reason.
One such demonstration took place in June when the House voted 29-6 to remove money from the budget for putting prisoners in “out of state facilites.” One of the six votes in favor was from Dunleavy surrogate Rep. Lance Pruitt, whose wife was in charge of communications for the governor.
Dahlstrom now says the prisoners are going Outside because it would take 12 months to open the Palmer jail and the hiring of 70 new officers. Her department didn’t start work to get this done probably because the state had already decided to send the prisoners Outside. She needs to tell the truth about this sequence of events.
Randy McLellan, president of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, gave this excellent summary of what’s wrong with the Dunleavy plan to warehouse prisoners in the Lower 48. It should not take 12 months to open the Palmer jail.
Last winter, just as the Dunleavy/Arduin plan to ship prisoners Outside was taking shape, attorney Carmen Gutierrez, a former deputy commissioner of corrections, wrote a column published in many state newspapers with this warning: “As this administration moves to repeal Senate Bill 91 and considers privatizing prisons, we face two choices: permit private prison profit margins to dictate our laws and impede and impede prisoner rehabilitation or pursue evidence-based practices that return people to the community prepared to participate in productively. “
The Dunleavy administration chose the for-profit option last winter and is making plans for keeping prisoners Outside for the long term.
While the request for proposals is to house up to 500 male prisoners, the documents say the state wants “expansion potential to 750 or more” for a contract that could last until 2025.
Dermot Cole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org