The Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) is currently operating in a non-sustainable manner. Alaskan policy makers are aware of the dilemma, noting in the 2015 Recidivism Reduction Plan: Cost Effective Solutions to Slow Prison Population Growth and Reduce Recidivism (2015) that,
“The ADOC is currently running at 101% of its general capacity despite the recent 2012 opening of the Goose Creek Correction Center at a cost of $250 million. If unabated, Alaska’s annual 3% prison population growth will soon result in the need to construct a new expensive prison costing Alaska more than $300 million to build and an additional annual operating budget increase of at least $50 million.
Alaska’s prison population growth, which exceeds the state’s population growth and continues despite a decrease in the state’s crime rate, comes at a time when 32 other states have reduced or stabilized their prison populations and enjoy decreased crime rates. Alaska, on the other hand, projects an 11% increase in its state prison population by 2018.”
Information on the State of Alaska’s current offender population, and its plans to reduce recidivism and prison populations in coming years can be found in the:
- 2014 Alaska Offender Profile
- Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center (AJSAC) Fact Sheet Press Release
- AJSAC Fact Sheet, Alaska Department of Corrections: Institutional Populations, 2005-2014
- 2015 Recidivism Reduction Plan: Cost Effective Solutions to Slow Prison Population Growth and Reduce Recidivism
- Alaska Department of Corrections Recidivism Reduction Plan: The Alaska Prisoner Reentry Initiative
One of the key issues brought to light through these documents is the percentage of Alaskan 'pre-trial' inmates, who spend long periods incarcerated before having ever exercised their right to a fair trial.
In reality, nearly 40% (more than 2,000) of Alaska inmates housed in institutions are currently unsentenced.
These individuals spend months, and often years, behind bars without ever having been convicted in a court of law. One obvious cause of this pattern is bail requirements being intentionally set by judges and prosecutors which cannot possibly be met by families, or which are designed to make a family suffer if an individual does not perform as required by the court.
“Dissatisfaction with the bail process stems from several factors. First, many defendants - in some studies over 90 percent of pretrial detainees - are practically indigent and cannot afford bail. Second, money is a weak incentive for appearance in court in many cases, because the people who can afford bail are the ones most likely to appear at trial without the threat of its forfeiture. Perhaps the most disquieting factor is that human freedom can be had for a price. Imprisoning people merely because they are too poor to pay for their release seems antithetical to our cultural ideals and our concept of justice.” (Clear, Cole and Riesig, 2013)
Another cause can be traced back to the rampant use of Plea Bargains, and requirement that an individual serve time for a plea even if proven innocent after the bargain is struck.
"Plea bargaining also comes under fire because it is hidden from judicial scrutiny. ... The result of bargain justice is that the judge, the public, and sometimes even the defendant cannot know for sure who got what from whom in exchange for what." (Cole and Smith, 2010)
Free Clayton Allison supporters believe that a key issue involved with the continual increase in prison population stems from the corruption and rate of error clearly visible throughout the Alaska Courts and judicial process. Alaska DOC is indeed inheriting, and being forced to manage, a problem being created at an earlier stage of authority in Alaska’s judicial process. However, there are also substantial risks to life and health being forced upon Alaskan inmates, sentenced and unsentenced alike. In fact, a member of Clayton Allison’s family recently provided a letter to the Governor's office outlining primary issues of concern they have observed in the time since Clayton’s incarceration began, including:
- Inmates currently under protective custody being repeatedly transported and placed in holding cells with general population inmates, resulting in severe injury;
- Guards that do not appear to have sufficient training to appropriately respond to emergency medical situations, or appear to be making inappropriate decisions on seeking medical help;
- Repeated use of solitary confinement as inappropriate punishment for behavior or events outside of inmate control;
- Paperwork process in place for inmates to file complaints or investigate errors, leaving them open for retaliation from staff and frightened of reporting real abuses and injuries;
- Protective custody inmates automatically being excluded from most programs (religious programs, mentorship programs, etc.) by default, due to their status - or more recently being forced into a completely inferior quality of life; and
- much more.
In addition to concerns over conduct in DOC facilities, a substantial number of DOC core policies currently stand in direct contradiction to its own vision and mission statements. DOC proclaims a goal of community reintegration; however, policies for their time served cause to cut them off from supportive family and community members.
Additionally, current inmates are automatically categorized and treated as “Offenders” despite the known fact that 40% have yet to appear at trial.
“[A] finding of guilt does not extinguish the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and it is unconstitutional for the court to consider a defendant’s decision not to express remorse in determining sentence. To do so violates a defendant’s ongoing right to maintain his innocence. Many state courts have held that remorse or lack thereof is an inappropriate consideration at sentencing: “A convicted criminal defendant remains a litigant in an adversarial proceeding. That he shows no remorse should be of no concern to the court, since in theory the defendant persists in his position until his right of appeal has been exhausted.” The Ninth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court have repeatedly held that a defendant should not be put in the position of being required to sacrifice a constitutional right (other than the right to trial by jury where the defendant accepts a plea bargain) to obtain a lesser sentence.” (State of Alaska v. Clayton Allison, 2015, 24)
Just as it is unconstitutional for a court to assign a harsher sentence to an individual who does not profess guilt, it is equally unconstitutional for a correctional institution to penalize inmates for exercising the same privilege. One of the foundational values of our country is that an individual is “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.” This principle should apply to treatment within facilities as well as to those who could afford bail and arrange for third-party supervision, and a shockingly large number of Alaskan inmates have not been proven guilty in a court of law.
Reform is needed in Alaska. If these issues concern you, and you would like to be involved in the reform of Alaska’s corrections system, please learn more in Speak and take an active role in your community and state.
GET THE FACTS. STAND UP. SPEAK.
- Gutierrez, Carmen, comp. 2015 Recidivism Reduction Plan: Cost-Effective Solutions to Slow Prison Population Growth and Reduce Recidivism(2015): n. pag. Alaska Department of Corrections, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Alaska Court System, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Feb. 2015. Web. Sept. 2015.
- Clear, Todd R., George F. Cole, and Michael Dean Reisig. "Jails: Detention and Short-Term Incarceration." American Corrections. 10th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2013. 172. Print.
- Cole, George F., and Christopher E. Smith. "Determination of Guilt: Plea Bargaining and Trials." The American System of Criminal Justice. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. 404. Print.
- State of Alaska v. Clayton Allison. 3PA-09-2996 CR. Alaska Superior Court. 2015. Sentencing Memorandum. Print.