The Palmer Correctional Facility will be shutting down. The commissioner of Department of Corrections Tuesday announced the shut down.
State Department of Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams spent Tuesday morning meeting with staff, Mat Su Borough officials and with Palmer mayor DeLena Johnson before going public with the announcement. Dean Williams said the plan is to move slowly.
“We are giving ourselves four to five months to accomplish the entire closure and re-purpose of the facility,” williams said. “We wanted to do that mostly to make sure the transition was smooth and that we gave ample opportunity for staff to find other positions.”
Palmer Correctional houses 176 minimum and 300 medium security inmates.
Williams said the closure will take place in two phases:
The minimum security inmates will be transferred to the Point MacKenzie prison farm starting the end of this summer. Thirteen staff members will go with them.
Medium security inmates will be re-housed to other facilities, such as Goose Creek Correctional at Point MacKenzie or Wildwood Correctional in Kenai.
by November. Twelve staff members will transfer to other Southcentral facilities.
Williams said closing Palmer Correctional will save the state thirty positions, however, he expects most of the corrections officers at Palmer to be transferred to other jobs.
“Actually before long we are we are going to start hiring for a pre-trial unit, too, another section in the department,” Williams said. “So all those factors taken into account, we believe, a best case scenario is we won’t lose any actual people. Most other staff will find other locations to work. That’s the good news. The down side, of course we realize, is the disruption of people’s lives and the locations they are working at. That’s the hard reality of it.”
He said there is current capacity in other state correctional facilities to take the Palmer prisoners. He said none of the Palmer inmates will be released on ankle monitors or to half way houses.
The state’s fiscal crisis is one obvious reason for closing the Palmer facility. Williams said last year’s state budget cuts combined with this year’s cuts forced him to take action at the beginning of this fiscal year to meet his department’s budget. But there is another reason he said: staffing levels and inmate safety.
“In terms of the staffing reassignment, really the good news about this difficult move is that we area able to send staff to our areas where we are really weak right now,” Williams said. “In the Anchorage Correctional Complex for example, it’s a facility where I have been very concerned about staffing. So this realignment, this re-purposing effort, is going to put at least twenty positions, probably more, back at the Anchorage complex.”
Brad Wilson, spokesman for the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, said he’s withholding comment until he learns more about the plan.
Williams would not say if the current closure presages other prison shutdowns. He said he has serious concerns about sending prisoners out of state again. But he admitted that could be a possibility.
“We’re taking this one step at a time,” Williams said. “I am going to look at putting an RFP out to see if going out of state is an option. I have some serious concerns about doing anything like sending prisoners out of state again, but I feel I have an obligation to at least analyze that, so I am going to do that.”
Palmer Correctional Center’s budget is $10. 6 million a year. DOC estimates the Palmer facility closure will save the department $5.6 million. The $5 million remaining will be reallocated to other facilities to increase staffing levels to recommendations.
The Palmer facility itself will be “repurposed”, Williams said, although he was not specific as to how the building would be used.