Letter to Governor's Staff

Dean Williams
550 W. 7th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501
dean.williams@alaska.gov
(907) 269-7450

August 22, 2015

Greetings, Mr. Williams,

I want to take the opportunity to thank you for allowing my husband and I to submit information on the interaction’s we’ve had with the Department of Corrections over the last 6 months. We have an ability to relay to you issues which we have seen and experienced; which you may normally never get to hear before being filtered through the many layers of supervision. Some of these issues are in direct contradiction to the mission of the Department of Corrections, and some of them are setting the State of Alaska up for incredible liability if left unaltered; as they are actively causing serious physical harm, and could ultimately lead to additional inmate deaths.

Mission & Vision of DOC: The Alaska Department of Corrections provides secure confinement, reformative programs, and a process of supervised community reintegration to enhance the safety of our communities.

We are trained professionals committed to a safe, open and respectful organization. We are dedicated to public safety and will always respect the rights and dignity of victims of crime. Offenders in our charge will be treated in a safe and humane manner, and will be expected to enhance their ability to reform every day.

Our experience is limited to the Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC) and Mat-Su Pretrial Facility (MSPT). However, I feel that this is a relevant perspective, because according to the 2014 Alaska Public Offender Profile:

  • 27% (1,369) of Alaska’s total prisoners (5,058) are housed at GCCC
    • 25.71% (352) inmates at GCCC are unsentenced
  • 2% (112) of Alaska’s total prisoners (5,058) are housed at MSPT
    • An unknown amount of inmates from other facilities also are brought through MSPT on a daily basis for court proceedings
    • 86.61% (97) inmates at MSPT are unsentenced

It is already a major concern if Alaskan inmates are not getting adequate care and/or are dying while entrusted to the state for incarceration. However, nearly 40% of Alaskan inmates are unsentenced. These are Alaskan citizens who have not yet been afforded the right to a fair trial, and the defense of both their rights and quality of life before appearing in court is paramount to justice within our society.

Key Areas of Concern:

Mission: Offenders in our charge will be treated in a safe and humane manner -

  • Inmates currently under protective custody are being repeatedly transported and placed in holding cells with general population inmates, resulting in severe injury:
    • Clayton Allison was incorrectly placed or transported 4 times in a single trip from GCCC to the Palmer Courthouse on July 15, 2015
    • Clayton has interacted with multiple inmates in the GCCC K Mod (protective custody module) who have been injured during the same transport process; some who required hospital treatment recently
    • In our limited experience, the errors are originating when placed into the care of MSPT staff, and then being inherited by GCCC staff upon return
  • Prisoners are being transported year-round without adequate weather protections such as additional clothing and protective outerwear, posing a direct health risk. Let’s not pretend that we do not live in an arctic environment.
    • Inmates are required to turn in their provided light jackets when leaving a facility for transport, and not allowed to have additional commissary items purchased for warmth during transport.
    • Inmates who become ill due to such exposure are placed back into the general population, who lack access to basic cold-care items available to the general public; thus spreading the risk of infection to their Mods.
    • Inmates are not provided with adequate protective outerwear when released, even in the dead of winter.
  • Guards 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:
    • An inmate in the K Mod at GCCC recently requested medical help, believing he was suffering from a heart attack. He was reportedly later found correct. Guards on shift at the time did not believe him because he was walking and talking, and denied him medical help.
    • An inmate in the K Mod recently experiencing extreme pain was ignored by guards. Other inmates were carrying him to showers and back to his cell for multiple days before medical help was called for. He was ultimately taken to the hospital and underwent some form of major surgery.
    • An inmate in the K Mod has developed severe infections in his ears, which remained untreated for an extensive period, and now has permanent holes in his eardrums
  • Access to medications or medical support devices being withheld for long periods as paperwork plays catch-up:
    • Individuals who depend upon critical medications for health conditions like chronic pain, heart disease, schizophrenia, and other serious illnesses are frequently dropped off of medications entirely when moved; not only from one facility to another, but also when moving between Mods in the same facility
    • When an inmate has a health condition arise, ranging from the onset of a fever to symptoms of a heart attack, they are told to file a medical Copout Form and await a response, which has a standard response rate of 1-2 weeks
    • Inmates who need assistive devices, like hearing aids, often have them taken away initially and have to wait an extended period for approval
  • Repeated use of solitary confinement as inappropriate punishment for behavior in GCCC’s K Mod:
    • More than one instance of bathroom emergencies being forced upon inmates from the K Mod due to guards prohibiting access to facilities has resulted in affected inmates being threatened with, or forced into, administrative segregation within the past few weeks
    • An inmate was recently sent into administrative segregation for raising food safety concerns with guard staff. These concerns were later substantiated as a real threat to inmate health.
    • K Mod inmates, in the last 2 months, have been constantly threatened with administrative segregation for ‘standing too close’ to specific guards
  • Paperwork process in place for inmates to file complaints or investigate errors, leaves them open for retaliation from staff and frightened of reporting real abuses and injuries:
    • When submitting concerns to the Ombudsman, families are informed that an investigation cannot be opened without direct complaint being received from the inmate himself.
      • Inmates have no way to file a complaint without it being read/reviewed by staff at the facility, and often refuse - regardless of the severity of the event - due to the fear of retaliation.
    • Clayton had a guard from the property department explode at him verbally, when being returned to the facility from court, for being a “F***ing K Mod Chester.” Other guards escorting him indicated that this guard had an extensive history of complaints and known hatred for K Mod inmates. Despite the property guard’s unprofessional behavior, and refusal to locate Clayton’s missing property, a different guard took pity on him and brought his missing property to him after he had been returned to his mod. Clayton has heard many reports of inmates in his Mod losing, or being denied, property from this department.
    • Clayton has also heard reports of inmates filing Copout Form complaints or questions to departments like the mail room resulting in delay of mail to the inmate of up to 6 months.
      • A recent Copout response to an inmate, after requesting information on missing magazine subscriptions, seemed to indicate that the facility was disposing of this form of property mail
    • Families and friends of inmates have seen retaliation against their loved ones for filed complaints, and are hesitant - if not outright unwilling - to pose greater risk to their loved ones by speaking out about abuse

Mission: The Alaska Department of Corrections provides ...a process of supervised community reintegration -

  • Current DOC policies are in direct contradiction of this mission by cutting off inmates from family and community support, which becomes critical upon release and is proven to reduce recidivism.
    • Facility staff at GCCC are directly opposed to family members advocating for proper care of their loved ones:
      • I personally received what I felt to be a thinly-veiled threat from John Conant, Superintendent of GCCC by phone when he explained to me that one of the ‘major factors for consideration’ for allowing Clayton into K Mod (protective custody after his life had been threatened multiple times) was the ‘administrative burden’ involved with having to deal with Clayton’s family (me).
      • My husband received numerous threats from POs and guard staff that he needed to ‘deal with his family’ or they could ‘make life difficult for him.’ At this point the facility had received 2 emails from family (both requested/required by facility staff) and 2 phone calls (recommended by staff to correct errors), and had held a brief private meeting with myself to brief them on Clayton’s unusual situation and the complications it may cause for the facility.
    • Visitation policies discourage broad support from family and community members, and GCCC policies are much more restrictive than statewide DOC policies despite having more advanced security technology:
      • SOA DOC Index #810.02-V-A defines “Immediate Family Member” as: “Mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, wife or husband”. When applied, this definition specifically excludes: father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and grandparents. In Clayton’s case, there are 13 family members who wish to regularly visit Clayton, and 9 (69%) of them are excluded by the current definition.
      • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-C-2 states that prisoners may have a maximum of 10 approved visitors (applied as including immediate family). In Clayton’s case, dozens of friends and community members stand in support of him, and belief in his innocence, and are being specifically cut off from support by this limitation.
      • More examples are listed in Appendix A
    • Individuals on the list of victims in an inmate’s case are automatically excluded from the right to visitation at GCCC even if wanting to see the inmate.
      • I, personally, had GCCC staff attempt to prohibit me from seeing my husband months after having informed them immediately after his arrival of that status. Individuals are not permitted to determine whether they are listed as a victim in a case, and can be arbitrarily added by PO’s without proper authorization. I had to involve the Parole Officer, Assistant District Attorney, and my husband’s attorney’s to resolve the problem.
    • Alaska prisons do not allow for conjugal visits; increasing the risk of sexual offenses occurring in prisons, and diminishing relationships of married inmates - if not directly leading to divorce
      • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-D-2-v-a states that “The prisoner and visitor may embrace for a short time only at the beginning and end of the visitation period. It is not permitted to kiss.” - This is an extreme stance in a facility like GCCC which uses body-scanning technology before and after all visitation regardless of adherence to policy.
      • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-D-2-v-b states that “Amorous fondling or caressing or other sexual activities are prohibited.”
  • Families of inmates have expressed severe concerns about the recent announcement that inmates will soon be charged $1 per local phone call
    • In reality, calls are limited to 15 minutes in duration, so a 1-hour local phone conversation will result as a $4 cost to inmates or their families. Inmates make $.50 per hour, requiring 2-hours of work for a single local 15-minute phone call.
    • Inmates who are not considered indigent, but who do not have family financial support - I would assume a large population of the prison - will be the most severely affected; losing primary connection with friends and loved ones.

Mission: We are trained professionals committed to a safe, open and respectful organization.

  • The prisoner handbook is not adequately available to inmates at GCCC or MSPT
    • We were never made aware of the existence of a handbook at MSPT
    • Despite statements in the GCCC prisoner handbook that it will be made available to all inmates within a specified period of time, most inmates serve their entire sentence without ever being provided the opportunity to read a copy.
      • The copy of the handbook available to the public was last revised in 2013. When expressing confusion over contradictions with policy outlined in the handbook, families are informed that it is not up to date. When requests for the most recent version are made, the request is denied.
      • Copies of the handbook are not distributed to inmates as outlined in its text.
      • Inmates in administrative and protective segregation are only provided access through a copy which is posted, attached to the wall, within the unit as they pass by. Inmates are not permitted to stop and read the text for any period of time.
        • During my phone conversation with John Conant, Superintendent of GCCC, he criticized Clayton for relying on his family for support; stating that he should ‘man up’ and ‘follow procedure.’ When I informed him that Clayton had NEVER SEEN the handbook and only knew DOC policies as they had been relayed by myself or other family members he assured me that Clayton would be afforded the opportunity to read the 40+ page document before the end of the day. A guard then brought Clayton a copy of the document, afforded him 2 hours to review it, and told him that, “only trouble-makers ask to see this.”
    • SOA DOC Index #810.01 VI-D-2 states that, “Each Superintendent will ensure that the prisoner handbook lists procedures for calling attorneys, the Ombudsman or other designated privileged organizations to avoid recording or monitoring.”
      • Without access to this document, or even an orientation to inform them that the information is contained within it, most prisoners are never instructed about the policy’s existence.
      • The lack of understanding around this option leads to increased fear of retaliation for inmates and families alike.
  • High staff turnover leaves the inmate population uncertain of guard expectations and basic daily processes
    • Even basic processes for attending and returning from inmate visitation varies completely in how it is performed, and what technology is used or ignored, dependent upon which staff are performing the process
    • Clayton Allison has attended visitation 6 days a week for more than 6 months, and still does not know what process to expect on a given day
  • Protective custody inmates automatically excluded from almost all programs (religious programs, mentorship programs, etc.) by default, due to their status, and are not even afforded religious services (instead being restricted to simple bible study or conversational meetings).
  • Not enough room is available for inmates in the GCCC K Mod, resulting in extensive wait times for inmates housed for protection in administrative segregation (solitary confinement), overcrowding and use of boats in lower-level cells, and a constant threat of being moved into administrative segregation for minor issues in order to rotate in people on the current waiting list.
    • Guards were recently making rounds in the K Mod, writing down any and all minor violations without warnings or conversations, and creating obvious lists of inmates to transition.

Mission: Offenders in our charge will be treated in a safe and humane manner, and will be expected to enhance their ability to reform every day.

  • Note that even the DOC mission statement refers to all individuals under its care as “offenders.”
    • Nearly 40% of Alaska prisoners, and more than 25% of the prisoners housed at GCCC, are in an Unsentenced status. These individuals wait weeks, months, and years before ever exercising their right to a fair trial.
      • For example: A Palmer man was just acquitted of rape this month after serving more than 2 years in prison, due to a $100,000 bail requirement.
    • Alaska’s 2015 Recidivism Reduction Plan states that, “Overuse of pretrial detention is not only costly, but is believed to increase recidivism by:
      • disrupting and often ending housing and employment arrangements for individuals whose economic situation is already precarious,
      • by delaying treatment for problems that are often casually related to their misconduct since the ADOC has very limited ability to provide reformative programming to unsentenced persons,
      • undermining the ability to make restitution, and
      • exposing individuals to more serious entrenched criminal influences.”
      • AND as outlined earlier, it should be added to this list, ‘creating barriers and severing connections between individuals and their family and community supporters.’
    • ALL policies need to take into consideration that a certain percentage of this population will ultimately be found not guilty, and should be treated as potentially innocent detained citizens.
  • Current policies (commissary, special rewards, program participation, etc.) reward inmates with participation for being sentenced - as if this is an accomplishment!
    • Many policies treat all inmates as guilty by default, and penalize them for defending their constitutional right not to self-incriminate and to maintain their innocence.
      • “Moreover, 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.” SOA vs. Clayton P. Allison, 3PA-09-2996 CR, Sentencing Memorandum
      • 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.

I appreciate your time and attention to such a lengthy list of issues, but it is my firm belief that these issues pose a continuing risk to the health, community relationships, future success, and quality of life of Alaska inmates. I am no longer in a position to ignorantly assume that someone had to actually do something illegal to end up detained in a state or federal prison. I understand the stark reality that, despite a commitment to ethical and legal behavior, I could even find myself in this position one day after a simple accusation.

These are not just prisoners. They are our family and friends.

With Greatest Concern,

CJs_Signature.png

Christiane ‘CJ’ Allison


Appendix A: Visitation Policies in Direct Contradiction of DOC Mission

  • SOA DOC Index #810.02-V-A defines “Immediate Family Member” as: “Mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, wife or husband”. When applied, this definition specifically excludes: father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and grandparents.
    • In Clayton’s case, there are 13 family members who wish to regularly visit Clayton, and 9 (69%) of them are excluded by the current definition.
  • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-C-2 states that prisoners may have a maximum of 10 approved visitors (applied as including immediate family).
    • In Clayton’s case, dozens of friends and community members stand in support of him, and belief in his innocence, and are being specifically cut off from support by this arbitrary number.
    • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-C-3 states that an inmate may request addition or deletion to their approved visitation list on a schedule determined by facility SOP
      • In practice at GCCC, this opportunity is limited to 1 time per year and deletions are removed immediately, despite the individuals being added in their place taking 7-90 days to process for addition; leaving an inmate with a severely reduced list for an extended period.
  • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-C-4 states that an individual may only be approved for one prisoner’s visitation list. With the exclusion of in-laws from the “immediate family” definition, this policy has the potential to restrict family access dramatically.

GCCC in violation/contradiction to, or much more restrictive than, statewide policy:

  • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-B-1-vi states that “Visitation must be made available on at least three week days and on weekends; a facility must make reasonable efforts to schedule visitation to accommodate day and night work shifts of potential visitors.”
    • GCCC adheres to this policy for general population inmates, but completely ignores it for K Mod inmates requiring protective custody. K Mod visitation is offered 6 days per week, but only from 9-10 pm. GCCC is roughly 2 hours outside of Anchorage, meaning Anchorage families and friends of K Mod inmates do not have an option that allows them to visit and return home before midnight during the best of weather. This schedule is also extremely difficult for elderly and disabled who tend to have more difficulty with the late night requirement.
    • In practice, GCCC’s K Mod inmates are also excluded from specialty visitation events like their Summer Festival by default. They are directly discriminated against due to their need of protection, which is a result of the actions of other inmates, and rarely their own behavior within the institution.
  • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-D-3-iv-b&c state that for After Hours Visits and Extended Visits, “The Superintendent may authorize extended visits for situations such as families traveling long distances or for professionals requiring extended hours of contact.
    • GCCC K Mod inmates are excluded from this policy by default. Families are not allowed to request extended or after-hours visits due to the only time of day in which visits are allowed in the first place.
  • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-D-2-iii states that “The Department may not restrict a prisoner’s contact visitation solely because of a change in status such as when a prisoner is transferred from another facility or a former pretrial detainee is sentenced.
    • In practice at GCCC, this policy is completely unknown to visitation staff (or ignored). Visitors of transferring inmates are informed that until an official GCCC visitor form is processed (7-90 days) - regardless of whether they were an approved visitor at another facility - they are prohibited from more than a single courtesy secured visit with the inmate.
  • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-G-3-ii details specific dress code restrictions for visitors of Alaska inmates.
    • GCCC’s visitor dress code policy is much more restrictive excluding items like: military fatigues, scrubs, sleeveless tops, dual-layers tops (like women pairing a sleeveless top with a long-sleeved cardigan or sweater top), open-toed shoes, and much more.
      • These restrictions are extremely limiting, especially for men and women working in professional fields, and non-intuitive; resulting in even experienced/regular visitors frequently being turned away or required to change clothing due to an oversight in the complicated policy.
  • SOA DOC Index #810.02-VII-G-5-iiI clearly states that “The Department may search a visitor’s personal effects and belongings if the visitor wishes to take them into the visitation area.”
    • GCCC specifically prohibits all visitors from taking any personal effects into a visit with an inmate; including, basic items like paper and pencil/pen or photographs. GCCC also prohibits inmates from bringing in similar items of their own. This creates an extreme hardship on friends and family trying to obtain information from inmates that they want to remember after the visit, and is particularly discriminatory to the elderly and individuals with memory problems.

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