Over the last month we have fielded a tremendous number of questions from the membership (and recently the press) about the rumors surrounding the closure of several institutions across the State. There have always been rumors and concerns, but for many reasons, it is more concerning this time.
We met with Upper Management twice on this issue. We asked for, and we hoped that we would be provided more concrete information to relay to Officers. With the concern and uncertainty being felt by Officers across the State ACOA is simply not in a position to stay silent on the issue/rumors of pending institution closures. Therefore, this email touches on five areas:
- The Rumors
- What We Have Been Told by Upper Management
- What We Know
- How the Contract Applies
- The Issues with Private Prisons
The Rumors: There are many rumors which range from closing two to five institutions and sending the inmates to private prisons in the Lower 48. The only institutions which would remain open would be intake centers and Goose Creek. Some rumors have even included Spring Creek, but most only include closing Palmer and Wildwood (the sentenced side). Rumors about privatizing Alaska institutions are very unlikely. The only exception may be Point McKenzie which is in the realm of possibility, though again not very likely.
There is also the rumor that the DOC is negotiating with private prison companies, including the dollar amount per prisoner, and even that the Commissioner is visiting private prisons down in the states. The most commonly mentioned state is Michigan, but there have been others.
What We Have Been Told by Upper Management: Upper Management adamantly denies the rumor that it has made any concrete decision on closing any institution(s). In both our meetings we had with the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, it was stated that they are only in the early vetting process and are simply looking for ways to cut costs in these times of huge state deficits. We were told that they want to be sure that if they do have to close an institution(s) it makes sense, financially and otherwise.
Additionally, Upper Management adamantly denied that it is or was involved in negotiations of any kind with any private prison. They did state that private prison representative(s) had contacted the Commissioner, but denied that they were negotiating with any of them.
We requested, and Management agreed, that they will keep us informed as they work through the cost analysis associated with closing any institution(s) prior to any closures.
What We Know: For a couple of years there has been talk of closing institutions and Palmer and Wildwood were always on the top of the list. The rumor was aggravated recently when Palmer Officers were told that Palmer Minimum was closing and the inmates were to be moved to GCCC. When ACOA called about this, it was relayed to us that it was a mistake. Understandably, that “misspeak” led to quite a bit of angst and fueled the rumors that the closing of Palmer and other institutions had already been decided.
In addition, the press has reported that institutions “may close,” which caused additional concern. A few of the press statements and quotes are below.
“’Reduce the prison population, keep people out of the system that don’t need to be deeper in the system and as a byproduct of that should save money once you get facilities ramped down,’ said Commissioner Dean Williams.”
“The Department of Corrections says it may close one of its facilities before the end of the year.”
“Governor Bill Walker’s $3.5 million cut to the Department of Corrections will cause the department to close at least one corrections facility and possibly some probation offices. Department spokesperson Corey Allen-Young will not specify which ones.”
How the Contract Applies: Assuming institution(s) do close, there are two main areas of the Contract which will come into play, although others will certainly be affected as well. 1) Article 11 discusses how there must be a feasibility study before the DOC contracts out to private prisons and ACOA must have the opportunity to review that study, 2) Article 10 contains the layoff language which may become important if the DOC actually begins to close institutions.
Article 10 of the Contract also discusses the layoff provisions. Obviously, closing an institution will affect Officers at all institutions. If two or more are closed, the impact will be greater. The mechanics of layoffs are going to be complicated. When discussing the pitfalls and misconceptions of savings associated with closing an institution with Upper Management, we also discussed the issues with the layoff language.
The Issues with Private Prisons: We have been down this road many times over the last 20 years and could write a book on the deficiencies of private prisons, but here is a short summary, much of which we have communicated recently to Upper Management. Private prisons run completely contrary to all the recidivism efforts of the Pew Institute and SB 91. As has been pointed out many times, reducing recidivism is literally against private prisons’ business model. Their cost savings are smoke and mirrors and do not include transportation or health care costs to name a few. Any stated small short term savings are mitigated when inmates stay in prison longer because of increased recidivism. Alaskan families will be separated, Alaskan jobs will be lost, and more political scandals may arise, just like last time the State tried this. Goose Creek was built so we would not have to utilize private prisons ever again.
Just like with arbitrations, past performance is not a guarantee of future success, but we have successfully fought private prisons five times. We understand the pressures of the current deficits but private prisons do not save money. A bad financial situation is not an excuse for making bad financial decisions.
We have asked to meet with Upper Management again. We hope that in the future they will provide additional information so that you, the individuals who will actually be affected, can stay informed.