New bill would prevent DOC from shipping inmates to out-of-state prisons

State lawmakers are pushing back against the Dunleavy Administration’s effort to send Alaska inmates to private prisons in the Lower 48.

New legislation sponsored by Rep. Zack Fields (D-Anchorage) would remove the ability of the Department of Corrections commissioner to incarcerate prisoners in out-of-state facilities, unless the move is needed for medical reasons or to place a prisoner closer to family. Transfer for trial or extradition would still be allowed.

This proposal is necessary because – even after the House Finance Committee did everything in its power to direct funding toward in-state facilities such as the Palmer Correctional Center – the governor refused to open existing facilities here and instead moved forward with an effort to ship inmates out-of-state.

“We need to keep Alaska safe, not import dangerous gangs from Outside,” said Representative Fields, a co-chair of the House State Affairs Committee.

“Prisoners sent out of state to serve their sentences will return home to Alaska,” said one co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan). “We learned from the state’s past decision to house prisoners in the Lower 48 that they return all too often as hardened criminals, something that has contributed to our state’s prolific struggle with violent crime.”

“We should employ Alaskans to make our state safe instead of throwing away money on an effort that is unlikely to save money in the long run,” added Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage), another co-sponsor of the legislation.

Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) also joined Representative Fields, Drummond, and Ortiz as a sponsor of the bill.

DOC is currently seeking bids from out-of-state companies to house between 250 and 500 prisoners. If the new legislation becomes law, the contract would be invalidated.