Rep. Eldon Mulder
State Capitol, Room 507
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
Phone: (907) 465-2647
Fax: (907) 465-3518
Rep. Bill Williams
State Capitol, Room 511
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
Phone: (907) 465-3424
Fax: (907) 465-3793
April 29, 2002
Representative John Harris at (907) 465-4859
Representative Eldon Mulder at (907) 465-2647
(JUNEAU) – The House today passed legislation authorizing construction of a 1,000-bed, medium security prison that would be located in and owned by the City of Whittier, and managed by a private contractor.
Sponsored by the House Finance Committee, House Bill 498 represents an effort by the state to reduce overcrowding in regional jails, save state funds through economies of scale, provide economic development opportunity for Whittier, and return Alaska prisoners from contract in Arizona, said Rep. John Harris (R-Valdez).
"The benefits of a private correctional facility in Alaska have been clear for years, but the concerns of local residents have stymied three previous proposals in other communities," said Harris. "Whittier voters have made it overwhelmingly clear - 88 votes out of 110 in a local referendum ? that they want the economic stability, jobs and closer bond with the rest of the state that this prison project would provide."
Harris said the prison proposal would provide several significant benefits:
Relieve overcrowding: Alaska has 15 regional correctional facilities, 10 of them operating at more than emergency capacity, placing both inmates and staff at risk of injury or death. An additional 1,000-bed facility could reduce that overcrowding, and would allow the state to bring back the 750 inmates now housed at private prisons in Arizona.
Stimulate economy: Construction would create more than 500 direct and indirect jobs, and operation would create an additional 500 direct and indirect jobs for Alaskans. The $80 million to $100 million project would also stimulate the economy of Alaska in general.
Address Alaska Native prisoners' needs: Returning Alaska Native prisoners closer to their homes, families and culture, and the planned introduction of culturally appropriate rehabilitation programs, would allow the Whittier prison to address the high recidivism rate among Alaska Native offenders.
Save money: While housing a prisoner costs no less than $138 per day at a public regional jail, the Whittier facility would cost about $92 per day, saving the state $16.8 million per year. While that is higher than the $58 daily cost at Arizona prisons, the difference would be made up by Whittier's intangible benefits such as proximity to home, access to cultural programs, and local and state economic stimulation.
"This project will benefit Alaska economically and socially by providing in-state prison beds at significantly less cost than state-operated beds; by returning Alaskan prisoners closer to the resources necessary for effective rehabilitation; by diminishing state liability for the effects of prison overcrowding; and by providing programs designed to break the cycle of Alaska Native recidivism," Harris said.
HB 498 moves next to the Senate for consideration.
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