The Alaska Department of Corrections Commissioner will be in Haines next week. Dean Williams is traveling to far-flung corners of the state in preparation for more budget cuts. He is visiting all 15 towns that are part of the DOC Community Jails Program.
The Community Jails Program supports towns from Haines to Dillingham to Kotzebue. Each one has a jail facility that is funded by DOC. The funding ranges from about a million dollars for the North Slope Borough to about $100,000 for Cordova. Haines received about $216,000 this fiscal year.
That’s down from a couple years ago. In FY 2016, Haines lost more than $170,000 in Community Jails support. The local police department is so reliant on that funding that the cut prompted the borough to freeze hiring for a fifth police officer position. Police Chief Heath Scott says the money helps keep the department’s four officers and five dispatchers employed.
“We get right now a fair chunk of money from DOC to cover our dispatchers,” Scott said. “They act as DOC employees and dispatchers in our budget.”
Scott worries that the in-person visit from Commissioner Williams is a signal of more reductions to come.
“We don’t think he’s coming here to give us good news,” Scott said.
DOC Spokesman Corey Allen-Young explains why Williams is visiting the towns involved in the Community Jails Program:
“Because of the cuts, you know we have to cut even further. So we’re just looking at options,” Allen-Young said. “Nothing is really set in stone but in order to fully get an understanding and make a decision that’s wise and efficient and maintains safety you have to go to these places and see what’s being done in these communities.”
Allen-Young says ‘everything is on the table’ when it comes to the next round of budget cuts. He says the department isn’t just looking at the rural jails, but its major facilities. For example, the Palmer Correctional Center was recently shut down.
Allen-Young says the commissioner will also talk to community leaders about changes on the way from SB 91. The criminal justice reform bill passed the state legislature earlier this year.
SB 91 requires DOC to establish a pretrial services program to work with defendants awaiting resolution of their cases. The goal is to reduce the number of people held in prison for non-violent crimes.
“They’re trying to limit the amount of people that are actually in the correctional system,” Allen-Young said. “So because of that, you’ll be put into pretrial services. I’m being very generic here because it’s still being worked out. But as part of that, that would have to fall somewhat on the community working the Department of Corrections moving forward to make sure the criminal justice process is followed. ”
Allen-Young says the commissioner wants to talk with local leaders about how SB 91 will impact their communities. The pretrial services program is required to be in place by the beginning of 2018.
Commissioner Williams will be in Haines on Tuesday, Nov. 1. Before that, he was making the rounds to Craig, Ketchikan, Petersburg and Cordova.