Staffing Shortages and Overcrowding in State Prisons Could Create Unsafe Conditions, Report Finds
Senator Wielechowski Calls on Department of Corrections To Remedy Deficiencies
June 2, 2010 — A recent report by the Legislature’s non-partisan Audit Division finds that staffing shortages and overcrowding in state prisons may be leading to an increase in assaults on correctional officers and other prisoner misconduct.
The report was prepared at the request of Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) after correctional officers complained about unsafe staffing conditions in Alaska’s prisons.
The auditors examined staffing at four of the state’s 12 prisons (the Anchorage Correctional Complex, Fairbanks Correctional Center, Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, and Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome).
They found that these four facilities alone were short 17 correctional officers, with the greatest shortage being in Anchorage. A consultant hired by the auditors through the American Correctional Association also noted numerous issues with security post “efficiency and effectiveness” that could require up to 47 additional staff positions or modifications to facility design and operations.
“Staff shortages only worsen problems associated with overcrowding, which has plagued Alaska’s prison system for years,” Senator Wielechowski said today. “When you combine the two, it can create the perfect storm, putting both prisoners and correctional officers at risk.”
The audit found that overcrowding in the four prisons examined was commonplace. For example, at the Anchorage-East facility, inmate populations exceeded capacity 99% of the time. At the Fairbanks prison, capacity was exceeded 92% of the time.
“The Department of Corrections has had to double-bunk cells and house inmates in gyms,” Senator Wielechowski said. “And unfortunately, at least in some facilities, we’ve seen a rise in violent behavior.”
The report found that at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, there were 22 assaults on correctional officers between January and September of 2009, compared to 14 assaults per year in 2007 and 2008.
“Correctional officers have also been required to put in an excessive amount of overtime with severely limited opportunities to take leave,” Wielechowski said.
From January 2007 through April 2009, the auditors found that the state paid an average of almost $2.8 million in overtime costs for the four facilities they examined. In addition, in May 2009, managers at the Anchorage prison limited personal leave to one scheduled week per year, except in extraordinary circumstances.
“The last thing we need is to turn our prisons into powder kegs,” Wielechowski said. “The Department of Corrections needs to look closely at the situation and come up with some proposed solutions.”He noted that the opening of the Goose Creek Correctional Center in the Point McKenzie area will provide some relief when it opens in June 2012. It will provide beds for about 1,536 prisoners. Alaska prisons now house about 3,400 inmates with an additional 1,000 inmates housed in facilities outside of Alaska.