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Decreased Staffing Causes Safety Concerns in Alaska Jails

Caslon Hatch Caslon Hatch, Health, Science and Technology Reporter,
POSTED: 09:51 PM AKDT Apr 29, 2014    UPDATED: 11:49 PM AKDT Apr 29, 2014

Ad Campaign Critical of Jail Overcrowding, Staffing Issues


Alaska has seen an increase in violence in its correctional facilities during the past few years. On Tuesday, the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee heard comments about how the Department of Corrections is operating, as well as the public’s perception of the agency as a whole.

Two issues were brought up during the meeting: the length of correctional officers’ shifts and the decreasing number of officers in facilities.

“We’ve already been cut to the bone and safety is already become a major concern,” said Brad Wilson, business manager for the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, the union that represents correctional officers. “With the legislative audit looking to cut another 10 percent, that’s very serious when it comes to safety of institutions.”

ACOA represents 950 correctional officers in Alaska. He says over the years, DOC has continued to cut back on staff minimums, causing concern over both safety of officers and inmates.

According to the State of Alaska, there were 13 assaults by inmates against staff in 2011, 23 in 2012 and 36 in 2013.

Just recently an officer at the Anchorage Correctional Complex was stabbed with a pencil in the back of the neck by an inmate. Members of the committee were shown a picture of the incident during the testimony.

There’s also been an increase of inmates dying under DOC supervision. The cases of Amanda Kernak and Davon Mosely, as well as their causes of death, remain under investigation.

Wilson says Kernak and Mosely’s deaths are symptoms of cutting staff.

“You’re not getting the attention to the inmates because there is too many and there are too few officers,” said Wilson.

LBAC Chair Sen. Anna Fairclough (R-Eagle River), said if staffing issues are causing inefficiencies in the department that issue will be brought up during the legislative session.

“There are two very different perspectives on that issue, and hopefully our auditors can tease that out — so we can provide a factual documentation of what’s happening with the Department of Corrections budget and how effectively they are using the people’s money,” Fairclough said.

Nobody from DOC testified Tuesday. Channel 2 reached out to DOC spokesperson Kaci Schroeder, who said the department couldn’t comment at this time on current safety procedures in the facilities.