New Alaska Prison Will Remain Closed
(05/06/2011)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Goose Creek prison in the Mat-Su will not open as scheduled, corrections officials announced.

The state budget under consideration by the Legislature does not allocate enough funds to authorize a start-up scheme that would open the prison next year with a test group of 30 prisoners, and could push back the date the facility will be fully operational, according to the Alaska Department of Corrections.

The $240 million prison is being built at Point MacKenzie across Knik Arm from Anchorage but been under heavy pressure after the Senate Finance Committee heard the expected costs of operating it. One senator said the state should scrap the project and bring back the 1,000 Alaska inmates it currently houses in a private prison in Colorado.

The corrections department asked the Legislature for $3.6 million to ramp up operations. The Senate voted against allocating the money but the House wanted to provide the entire amount.

House and Senate negotiators compromised in a conference committee recently and put $2.4 million in the operating budget, which is expected to pass.

The corrections department said the $2.4 million will go for bond debt and utility costs, and what’s left over will pay for the state to hire a security company to guard the prison.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Johnny Ellis said that if the corrections department can justify receiving more money, the Legislature could consider another request in the supplemental budget next spring.

The corrections department will not seek the money in next year’s supplemental budget, which is supposed to cover unanticipated costs. But the department could request the Legislature include the money as part of the budget for the next fiscal year, which will begin in July 2012.

Prison construction is about 80 percent complete. At 1,500 beds, it would be Alaska’s biggest prison. The state expects to spend about $50 million a year to run it, along with $17.8 million in annual lease payments to the Mat-Su Borough for building it. The state spends $20 million a year to keep inmates in Colorado.

Ellis said the state should instead try to reduce recidivism by diverting non-violent addicts and alcoholics from prisons to rehabilitation programs.

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