ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Department of Corrections plans to reopen a shuttered prison next year as part of efforts to deal with an expected surge in the state’s inmate population.
The state plans to reopen the Palmer Correctional Center, which was closed in 2016 during statewide budget cuts, The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.
The state awarded a $2.2 million contract last week to Roger Hickel Construction to get the facility ready to open in July or August 2021.
The state hired a superintendent and assistant superintendent to facilitate the reopening of the facility in Palmer, about 43 miles (69 kilometers) northeast of Anchorage, corrections department spokeswoman Sarah Gallagher said in an email.
Alaska’s prison population surged after legislators repealed a series of criminal justice reforms at the urging of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. By November 2019, the state’s prisons were 96% full.
The Dunleavy administration proposed sending some inmates to out-of-state prisons but abandoned the proposal in January following resistance from the Legislature.
The corrections department chose instead to open an additional community residential center, also known as a halfway house, and commit to reopening the Palmer prison.
At the beginning of this week the state’s prisons were 91% full, with 4,431 inmates in custody, Gallagher said.
Projections presented to the Legislature last year indicate the prison population will continue growing.
Brad Wilson of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association questioned whether the state will have enough officers to reopen the Palmer prison, even after building renovations.
The corrections department suffered “critically low staffing levels” before legislators appropriated funds for an officer recruitment unit, but the department has not yet established the group, Wilson said.
“With Palmer Correctional Center now opening, it is critical that the DOC hire this recruitment team and start a recruitment campaign,” Wilson said.