Alaska DOC reverses plans to send prison inmates out of state

The Alaska Department of Corrections plans to reopen the Palmer Correctional Center. (Photo courtesy the Alaska Department of Corrections)

The state has dropped plans to move Alaska inmates to prisons in the Lower 48 to address overcrowding.

Alaska Department of Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom told state lawmakers that she canceled the bid process during a committee hearing Thursday.

“In this process, we’ve been able to identify some in-state solutions that are going to address our growing population and provide an immediate relief to our system,” Dahlstrom said, addressing lawmakers discussing House Bill 187, which would restrict DOC’s ability to send prisoners out of state.

The announcement reverses a plan DOC announced in October. At the time, Dahlstrom said the state’s prison population had ballooned after a law that enforces stricter sentencing went into effect.

She repeated that point on Thursday, saying the state’s correctional system is now more than 97% full.

Instead of sending prisoners elsewhere, Dahlstrom said the department will pilot a reentry program for inmates serving out the final year of their sentences.

“I can’t speak to the specifics right now, because some things are still getting worked out, but it will be a pilot that I believe will be successful,” she said, adding that the program is estimated to take about 90 days to get going.

In another reversal, DOC plans to reopen the Palmer Correctional Center. Last year, the department said that was not a viable option, even after the Legislature appropriated more than $16 million toward reopening the facility.

Dahlstrom told legislators Thursday it will take more than a year to address “life, fire and safety issues” at the prison. She said they plan to complete the work as quickly as possible.

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