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Report on AK Prisons, Alaska ACLU, 2010

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ACLU of Alaska

MARCH 2010

AMERICAN CIYIL LIBERTIES UNION
of ALASKA

www.akcLu.org

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy

AVOIDING AN EVERYDAY CRISIS
ACLU of Alaska
MARCH 2010

www.akclu.org

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy:
Avoiding an Everyday Crisis
PUBLISHED MARCH 2010
THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION is the nation’s premier guardian of liberty, working daily in courts,
legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the
Constitution and the laws of the United States.

AMERICA CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF ALASKA FOUNDATION
1057 West Fireweed Lane, Suite 207
Anchorage, AK 99503
(907) 276-2258
www.akclu.org

Acknowledgements
This report was funded by a grant from the Human Rights Program of the American Civil Liberties Union’s
National Office (HRP).
As well as the financial support, the ACLU of Alaska benefitted from the guidance of Steven Watt, staff attorney
with HRP, in the framing, research and presentation of the report. We are also indebted to Willa Tracosas of
the ACLU’s Communications Department for technical assistance in the report’s formatting and layout. Finally
and most importantly, we extend our thanks to the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at
Yale Law School, which provided findings from a field mission and invaluable research on international human
rights law for the report. While the ACLU of Alaska acknowledges the support and assistance of the ACLU
and Yale Law School in the preparation of the report, this final version is the sole responsibility of the ACLU
of Alaska.
The staff of the Alaska Department of Corrections was extremely helpful in allowing visits by attorneys and
law students to meet with prisoners. Commissioner Joe Schmidt was extremely cooperative in enabling these
visits and maintaining a working relationship with the ACLU of Alaska. Superintendents and staff at every
facility went to great lengths to accommodate our interviews and to help us understand the workings of the
Department.
The cooperation of more than 150 prisoners in the custody of the Alaska Department of Corrections was essential to this report.

PROLOGUE
The ACLU of Alaska met with representatives from the Alaska Department of Corrections
(ADOC), including Commissioner Joe Schmidt, in the fall of 2008 to discuss this research
project. At that time, the ACLU of Alaska was guaranteed free access to the facilities involved in the research project and the cooperation of the prison superintendents and staff.
Throughout November and December, 2008, and January, 2009, representatives of the
ACLU of Alaska met with prisoners all over the state. At each location, the ACLU of Alaska
made arrangements with the superintendent in advance, and the staff at each facility fully
accommodated the visit. During the investigation, the Department lived up to its guarantee.
After the writing process had begun, Commissioner Schmidt hired a special assistant,
Carmen Gutierrez, to work on special projects for the Department. Starting in the summer
of 2009, Ms. Gutierrez worked closely with the ACLU of Alaska in developing the drafts of
the reports. Where more data was requested, Ms. Gutierrez reached out to other members of the Department and ensured that the ACLU of Alaska found data that was important to the development of the report: population figures, cell dimensions, interviews
with high-level officials, Department procedures and guidelines, etc.; the ACLU of Alaska
found transparency infrequently encountered in the world of corrections. To this end, the
ACLU of Alaska is deeply grateful to Commissioner Schmidt, the many individuals in the
Department who provided materials and answered questions, and Ms. Gutierrez.
The ACLU of Alaska would also like to note that, while some concerning trends and incidents are chronicled in this report, the prison system in Alaska does many things right,
especially relative to dysfunctional prison systems in other states. Even though concerns
are raised in this report about medical care and suicide prevention in Alaska prisons, the
overall mortality rate in Alaska compares well to that of most other states. Alaska prisons
lack the pervasive gang presence that makes prisoner-on-prisoner violence a frequent
event in other states, like California; only three in custody prisoner-on-prisoner homicides
are known to have occurred in Alaska facilities. The degree of overcrowding, while serious
in Alaska, has not reached the same level seen in many other jails and prison systems
around the nation. Regardless of the comparative merits of the Alaska prison system, the
ACLU of Alaska believes that improvement should occur wherever possible to meet the
legal needs of the prisoners of Alaska.
Particularly encouraging is an attitude in the Department administration reflecting a desire to improve rehabilitation efforts and to reform the Department as a whole. Examples
of the ongoing efforts include reports from Department officials that the prisoner classification system is undergoing reform and that new efforts to set prisoners up for re-entry
into the community will begin at the time of a prisoner’s admission to the facility. Given
that 95% of all prisoners will ultimately be released from custody, the Department has
expressed enthusiasm for the benefits to society, public safety, and the prisoner when

ACLU of Alaska

i

prisoners are supported by proper housing, employment, and medical and mental health
care upon release. The ACLU of Alaska hopes that the Department will continue to build
on its successes and the spirit of reform to improve conditions around the state.
The ACLU of Alaska would also like to note that the work of Alaska correctional officers
and administrators is an exceptionally challenging one, frequently having to cope with limited resources and the unique challenges of running a prison system in Alaska, which include weather, geographical distance, and lack of infrastructure. We hope that throughout
the report we have acknowledged these challenges, and we ask readers to keep in mind
the difficulties attending the day-to-day operation of a correctional facility.

ii

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
From the fall of 2008 to the spring of 2009, the ACLU of Alaska conducted a survey of prisoners in the Alaska prison system in order to review conditions in Alaska facilities and the
major privately-run facility in Arizona that houses Alaska prisoners. One attorney from the
ACLU of Alaska and four law students from Yale Law School interviewed more than 150
prisoners in every major correctional facility housing Alaska prisoners.
In looking overall at the correctional system, the ACLU of Alaska has concerns bearing
more investigation in these areas:
	
	
	
	
	
	

Significant overcrowding, particularly in pretrial facilities;
Anecdotal prisoner accounts of mismanagement of medical treatment;
Under detection and under treatment of mental illness among prisoners;
A need for continuing expansion of rehabilitation efforts;
Difficulties in developing rehabilitative programs for Alaska Native prisoners and
in implementing those programs for women in pretrial facilities; and
A prisoner complaint process viewed with suspicion by prisoners and that is without a necessary outside review.

The survey was funded by the Human Rights Project of the national ACLU organization,
with the intent that the outcome of the survey would be reviewed in light of contemporary
international human rights standards. The survey was designed to assess prisoner perceptions of the correctional system and review anecdotes from prisoners to find common
threads of experience reported by prisoners. The research and writing of the report was
accomplished with substantial cooperation from the Department of Corrections.

Overcrowding
Due to increased prosecution, harsher sentencing, fewer pretrial prisoners being released, and more probationers and parolees returning to custody, the growth of the prison
population in Alaska continues year by year. In 2007 and 2008, Alaska prisons faced terrible overcrowding conditions. Due to some intelligent management of the prison population – mostly the expanded use of the community corrections centers and increased use
of electronic monitoring as alternatives to traditional prisons – the overcrowding briefly
stabilized in the spring of 2009 but, by late 2009, has returned to the levels seen in late
2007 and early 2008. The original ingredients of prison overcrowding remain in place and,
without intervention, the growing population will surely continue to crowd existing facilities at least until the completion of Goose Creek Correctional Center being built in the
Matanuska-Susitna Borough and due for completion in 2012.

ACLU of Alaska

iii

One unfortunate means to redress this problem has been moving prisoners out of state to
contract prisons run by for-profit corporations. At these facilities, the prisoners are thousands of miles away from home and family, which limits the prospects for their ultimate
rehabilitation at the time of release. Prisoners have also been held in private facilities,
where 2 or 3 officers supervise 360 prisoners, leading to high incidences of assault. The
situation has changed with ADOC’s decision to move Alaska’s out of state prisoners to a
new facility near Denver, Colorado.
In light of the serious concerns regarding overcrowding, the ACLU of Alaska recommends:
	

	
	
	
	

	

	
	

A unified effort among the many governmental entities managing the criminal justice sector to develop a plan to address factors contributing to growth in the prison
population and diminish long-term overcrowding;
Improved rehabilitative and re-entry programming to prevent the return of prisoners to custody after release;
Increased availability of diversionary programs to prevent those convicted of minor
offenses from ending up in prison;
A review of prosecutorial and police procedures to ensure thoughtful crime prevention while minimizing use of incarceration;
The creation of a statewide sentencing commission to propose revisions to existing
sentencing laws, and to review the existing mandatory sentencing minimums for
the efficacy of use of state resources;
A review of the role of Alaska probation and parole officers, the Alaska judiciary,
and the Alaska parole board in probation and parole violation proceedings to find
inconsistencies and irregularities in the process;
Elimination of the usage of “boats” – mattresses in plastic shells placed on the
floor – to house prisoners; and
The return of the designated facility population capacity of the Alaska system to
2002 levels.

Medical and Mental Health Care
The provision of medical care and mental health care across more than a thousand miles
and in a dozen institutions presents a huge challenge for the state of Alaska. The ACLU
of Alaska identified several areas of concern in the administration of medical and mental
health care, some of which arose in both the medical and mental health fields:
	
	
	

iv

Limited statistics regarding the number of patients seen made assessments of
overall quality of care challenging;
The level of staffing for the medical and mental health services raised concerns
about its adequacy for the provision of health care in widely dispersed institutions;
Complaints of prisoners not receiving prompt or adequate treatment, or of receiving care inconsistent with prior medical care;

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

	
	

Suicide prevention protocols at odds with national standards; and
Under detection and under treatment of mental illness among prisoners.

In light of the concerns raised in the study, the ACLU of Alaska recommends:
	
	
	
	
	
	
	

Improved statistical reporting of numbers of patients seen, speed of response to
patient requests, review of negative outcomes;
Systematic review of major medical complaints;
Designation of more resources for medical and mental health care;
Reformation of suicide precaution procedures to bring Department in-line with
national standards;
Improved internal and external review of inmate deaths to prevent future deaths;
Monitoring of intake and follow-up procedures to ensure that prisoners with mental illnesses do not go undiagnosed; and
Review of basic dietary and exercise provisions – particularly for diabetic prisoners
– to prevent illness, to minimize costs, and to improve prisoner health.

Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation is an excellent way to minimize recidivism; funds devoted to rehabilitation
usually represent a cost-savings to the state based on preventing the costs of further
incarceration. In the early part of this decade, most state funding for in-custody rehabilitative programming was cut under the Murkowski administration. In the past two years,
the legislature has begun to restore the funding for substance abuse and sex offender
treatment programming in prison facilities. New efforts are underway to manage the reentry of prisoners newly released into society to ensure that, upon release, prisoners have
housing, employment, and have been connected with appropriate community resources to
succeed outside the prison walls. Review of prisoner complaints and studies in the area
revealed that:
	
	
	
	
	

Four of every five prisoners have some kind of substance abuse problem;
Alaska has the highest sexual assault rate in the nation;
Two of every three prisoners will return to prison within three years of release;
In 2008, 287 prisoners with felony convictions were released into the community
every month, with 95% of prisoners eventually returning to the community; and
Numerous prisoners reported that they were unable to obtain housing or employment on release and were forced to stay in homeless shelters.

In light of these findings, the ACLU of Alaska recommends:
	
	

Continuing efforts to improve resources for in- and out-of-custody rehabilitative
programming;
Continuing efforts to develop a re-entry protocol to ensure that each prisoner has

ACLU of Alaska

v

	

access to housing, employment, and medical and mental health care upon release;
and
Further development of rehabilitative programming in rural areas.

Equal Treatment
Alaska Natives comprise twice the proportion of the prison population relative to their
proportion of the statewide population. Untangling the origins of that overrepresentation
is extremely complicated. As one potential cause, many Alaska Native prisoners complained that they were required to stay in Anchorage during a parole or probation sentence
because the prisoner could only receive services in Anchorage.
Women held in custody in Alaska are mostly held in the Hiland Mountain Correctional
Center in Eagle River. However, women awaiting trial must be held close to their trial site;
this means that in the many pretrial facilities around the state, small groups of women
are housed inside larger majority-male prisons. In these locations, the need to keep the
female prisoners separate from male prisoners often results in limited access to important resources for women in the pretrial facilities, like rehabilitative programming or the
law library.
In light of these findings, the ACLU of Alaska recommends:
	

	
	

Review of the long-term plans for prison plant expansion in light of the need for
prison resources in Alaska Native majority areas and the special needs of women
in pretrial facilities;
Increased rehabilitative programming in Alaska Native majority areas; and
Design of rehabilitative programming targeted at the unique cultural needs of
Alaska Natives.

Grievance Procedure
Any time a prisoner has a complaint about conditions or treatment inside the facility, his
first action under the Department’s procedures should be to seek informal resolution,
usually by filing a request to see the appropriate officer – a form called a cop-out. If the
situation is not resolved, the prisoner can file a formal complaint called a “grievance” to
formalize his request and to seek a solution to the problem. If the matter is not resolved,
the prisoner then has several layers of appeals to go through. Review of prisoner complaints and studies in the area revealed that:
	

vi

Prisoners expressed distrust for the grievance system and felt their grievances
were not taken seriously;

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

	
	

Prisoners complained that their grievances were sometimes reviewed by the same
officer identified in the complaint or by a close relative of that officer; and
Prisoners complained that their cop-outs and grievances could not be found after
being filed.

In light of these findings, the ACLU of Alaska would recommend:
	
	

	

The introduction of an outside monitor to manage the grievance process;
A system to ensure that prisoners can receive an instant record of filing a grievance or cop-out, such as a stamped carbon copy or a numbered ticket indicating
the time and date of filing; and
Improved internal monitoring of the grievance process to prevent superficial
investigation of complaints or retaliation against prisoners for filing complaints.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue.......................................................................................................................... i
Executive Summary....................................................................................................... iii
Table of Contents .......................................................................................................... ix
I. INTRODUCTION . ....................................................................................................... 1
A. Why Should We Care About Prisoners’ Rights?..................................................... 1
B. Why use International Human Rights to Examine Prison Conditions?.................. 3
C. What Will Reform Cost?........................................................................................ 4
D. Overview of the Alaska Prison System.................................................................. 5
i.	 Alaska and its Geography .................................................................................5
ii.	 Alaska and its People .......................................................................................5
iii.	 Alaska and its Prisons ......................................................................................7
II. METHODOLOGY......................................................................................................... 8
III. LEGAL FRAMEWORK .............................................................................................. 10
A. International Law and American Prisons........................................................... 10
B. Domestic Law and American Prisons ................................................................ 11
IV. ANALYSIS OF ISSUES ............................................................................................. 13
A. Overcrowding...................................................................................................... 13
i. Introduction to Overcrowding in Alaska ..........................................................15
ii. Legal Standards Relating to Prison Overcrowding..........................................15
1. International Standards............................................................................. 15
2. Domestic Standards.................................................................................. 16
iii. Overcrowding in Alaska Prisons......................................................................17
1. History of Overcrowding and the Cleary Litigation.................................... 17
2. Current State of Overcrowding.................................................................. 18
3. Initial Response to the Recent Prison Overcrowding................................ 20
4. Life in an Overcrowded Alaska Prison....................................................... 23
a. How Space is Used in Prisons................................................................... 23
b. Risk of Harm to Prisoners . ..................................................................... 27
c. Overcrowding and Movement within the Prison....................................... 30
iv. Recommendations on Overcrowding...............................................................32
1. Attorney General’s Office.......................................................................... 32
2. Legislature................................................................................................ 33
3. Judiciary and Parole Board...................................................................... 36

B. Special Institutional Focus: Red Rock Correctional Center.................................38
C. Medical Care in the Alaska Prison System..........................................................46
i. Legal Standards for Prison Medical Care..........................................................46
1. International Standards............................................................................. 46
2. Domestic Standards.................................................................................. 49
ii. The Alaska Prison Medical System...................................................................49
1. The Structure of the System...................................................................... 49
2. The Intake System..................................................................................... 51
3. Prisoner Requests for Medical Care and Complaint Procedures............. 52
4. Charging Prisoners for Medical Care........................................................ 55
iii. Areas of Complaint and Concern within the Medical System...........................56
1. Quality of Care and Access to Treatment.................................................. 56
2. Misuse of Medical Segregation................................................................. 58
iv. Analysis and Strategies for Reform..................................................................60
v. Recommendations by the ACLU of Alaska on Medical Care...............................62
D. Mental Health Care in Alaskan Prisons.............................................................. 64
i. Legal Standards on Mental Health Care............................................................66
1. International Standards............................................................................. 66
2. Domestic Standards.................................................................................. 66
ii. Mental Illness in Alaska Prisons ......................................................................67
1. The Scope of the Problem.......................................................................... 67
a. The Population of the Mentally Ill in Prison.............................................. 67
b. Recidivism and the Cost of Untreated Mental Illness.............................. 69
2. Detection of Mental Illness and Intake Procedures.................................. 70
a. The Intake Screening Process and Form.................................................. 72
3. Suicide Precautions................................................................................... 75
4. Care of the Mentally Ill Prisoner............................................................... 80
a. The Scope of Mental Illness in Alaska and Resources for Treatment
in the Department of Corrections............................................................ 80
b. Refusal of Psychiatric Medications........................................................... 83
c. Inadequate Mental Health Resources and the Cycle of Mental Illness... 85
iii. Recommendations by the ACLU of Alaska on Detection
and Treatment of Mental Illness................................................................... 86
E. Rehabilitation in the Alaska Department of Corrections.................................... 88
i. Introduction.......................................................................................................88
ii. Legal Standards on Rehabilitative Programs...................................................90
1. International Standards............................................................................. 90
2. Domestic Standards.................................................................................. 92
iii. Rehabilitation in the Alaska Prison System.................................................... 92
1. Substance Abuse Treatment...................................................................... 92
2. Sex Offender Treatment............................................................................. 98

3. Pre-Release Services................................................................................ 98
a. Education................................................................................................... 99
b. Job Training..............................................................................................100
c. Family Contact & Communication...........................................................102
iv. Re-entry and Reintegration............................................................................104
v. Recommendations from the ACLU of Alaska...................................................107
F. Internal Governance Practices..........................................................................108
i. Introduction.....................................................................................................108
ii. Legal Standards on Internal Prison Supervision............................................108
1. International Standards........................................................................... 108
2. Domestic Standards................................................................................ 111
iii. Internal Governance in Alaska Prisons..........................................................111
1. Grievance and Appeal Process in Alaska................................................ 111
a. Department of Corrections Grievance Policy..........................................111
b. A Fair and Adequate Procedure?.............................................................114
i. Ineffective Grievances ................................................................... 116
ii. Retaliation..................................................................................... 118
iii. Chilling Effect............................................................................... 119
iv. Recommendations by the ACLU of Alaska on Internal
Governance Procedures.................................................................................120
G. Discriminatory Treatment.................................................................................121
i. Introduction.....................................................................................................121
ii. Legal Non-Discrimination Standards..............................................................121
1. International Standards........................................................................... 121
2. Domestic Standards................................................................................ 125
iii. Inequality in Alaska Prisons...........................................................................125
1. Alaska Natives in Alaska Prisons............................................................ 125
a. Family Contact..........................................................................................126
b. Access to Appropriate Rehabilitative Programming...............................127
2. Women in Alaska Prisons: Separation and Supervision......................... 129
iv. Recommendations by the ACLU of Alaska for Equal Treatment.....................130
APPENDIX A: ACLU OF ALASKA INTERVIEW FORM....................................................... A1

I. INTRODUCTION

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home
– so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they
are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or
college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places
where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal
dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have
little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to
home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
- Eleanor Roosevelt, “In Your Hands,” 1958.1

A. Why Should We Care About Prisoners’ Rights?
It is not always easy to be sympathetic to the interests of prisoners. After all, many prisoners have made appalling decisions for which they deserve to be punished. Many have
committed acts that have exacted a terrible toll on innocent victims. Moreover, the prisoners’ confinement means that they are largely out of sight and out of mind. Thus, it is easy
to ignore what happens to our state’s prisoners. But ignoring what happens in Alaska’s
prisons both allows for serious violations of human rights and undermines a core function
of the criminal justice system: rehabilitation.
Today more than 1 in every 100 adult Alaskans is in a prison, a halfway house or under the
direct supervision of the Department of Corrections (DOC)2—an incarceration rate equivalent to the United States’ nationwide rate, which is the highest in the world.3 The people
who end up in custody do not come from some foreign place; they come from within our
communities. While some prisoners certainly pose a safety threat to society, the typical
prisoner in Alaska does not fit this mold. Some of the men and women interviewed for
this report were incarcerated for crimes related to underlying substance abuse problems
or mental illness, or for statutory violations such as driving with a suspended license or
failure to pay child support. Some are awaiting trial and may never be convicted of a crime.
1	

Roosevelt, Eleanor, An Address to the United Nations Presenting “In Your Hands: A Guide for Community Action for the
Tenth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” available at http://www.udhr.org/history/inyour.htm.

2	

Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile, at 7 (indicating that, on average, 5,344 Alaskans were confined in a correctional facility, a community corrections center, or on electronic monitoring during the year of 2008),
available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf. See also Jenifer Warren et al.,
Pew Center on the States, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, at 43 (2009), available at http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/report_detail.aspx?id=49382.

3	

Pew Center on the States, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 (2009), available at http://www.pewcenteronthestates.
org/report_detail.aspx?id=35904.

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More than 1,000 prisoners are in custody for violations of the terms of their probation or
parole (usually for a relapse of drug or alcohol addiction while on probation or parole)4 or
for offenses against public order and administration (a catch-all category of non-violent
offenses like contempt of court or failure to appear).5 Less than half of all prisoners are in
prison for violent or sexual offenses.6
The troubling size of our prison population can largely be attributed to statutes creating new crimes, requiring lengthy mandatory sentences for existing crimes, increased
punishment for violations of probation and parole, and increased prosecution of nonviolent crime. Past failures to rehabilitate inmates may have led to high rates of recidivism,7
further increasing the size of the prison population. Rehabilitation is a crucial role for a
prison system where 95% of all Alaskan prisoners will eventually be released, and where
287 felons are released to the streets every month.
Sudden growth in the prison population from 2002 to 2007 made Alaska’s prisons seriously overcrowded and fiscally burdensome. This report will consider the state of this
system, as observed through interviews conducted with 153 inmates, or roughly 3% of the
total prison population, in all 13 facilities where Alaska houses its prisoners. The report
will also lay out proposals for reform to remedy these deficiencies, in particular, recommendations to reduce the overall prison population by 30% and to establish an external
monitoring mechanism to investigate prisoner complaints.
The criminal justice system in Alaska ought to endeavor to treat prisoners more humanely
and promote rehabilitation. Overcrowding and inadequate prison conditions tend to exacerbate, rather than treat, the problems behind criminal behavior. Even though advocacy for prisoner rights is often dismissed as something for “bleeding hearts” to concern
themselves with, ignoring problems in our justice and corrections system has led to higher
costs and the release of unrehabilitated prisoners into our communities.

4	

The almost unanimous finding of our survey of prisoners, upon asking prisoners who were in custody solely for violations of probation or parole, was that the violations that returned them to custody were for the use of alcohol or drugs.
That finding included both prisoners who reported probation or parole violations directly stemming from alcohol or
drug use (e.g., a positive drug test) and violations indirectly related to alcohol or drug use (e.g., not reporting to a probation officer because the probationer knew that when tested he would be positive, or not reporting to a probation officer
because the prisoner was busy seeking drugs or was too drunk to report). The dramatic rise in the number of prisoners
held for probation and parole violations (from 216 in 2002 to 734 in 2008) can be attributed both to the abandonment
of rehabilitative programming by the Department of Corrections in 2003 and an attitude among some probation and
parole officers that they ought to “get” released prisoners – to catch them in some technical violation of the rules of
probation or parole – rather than help them rehabilitate.

5	

Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile, at 16 available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/
admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf.

6	

Id. at 18.

7	

A study by the Judicial Council of Alaska found that 59% of prisoners released were re-arrested at least once for committing a new offense within the three years following their release. Including parole and probation violations, a total
of 66% of prisoners were reincarcerated at least once within three years. Alaska Judicial Council, Criminal Recidivism
in Alaska (Jan. 2007) available at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/1-07CriminalRecidivism.pdfwww.ajc.state.ak.us/
reports/1-07CriminalRecidivism.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

B. Why use International Human Rights to Examine Prison Conditions?
Since its founding, the United States has led the way in recognizing the inalienable rights
of human beings, including those accused and convicted of crimes. The Constitutions of
both the United States and Alaska have enshrined these rights. In accordance with this
tradition, the United States has helped draft, and has signed and ratified, international
treaties that guarantee rights of dignity and humane treatment to all people, including
accused and convicted individuals, and has participated in creating international bodies
that interpret and enforce these rights. We have set ourselves out as, in the words of former President Ronald Reagan, “a shining city on a hill,”8 a model of liberty for the rest
of the world. President Reagan noted that the United States “participated actively and
effectively” in the drafting of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT),9 in order to “clearly express United States
opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world.”10
International human rights standards manifest the intent of the United States and fellow nations to bind themselves to universal principles of humane treatment. The United
States and the State of Alaska have set out to implement these principles, in part, through
a mature system of justice and punishment that rises above vigilantism. We have sworn to
bring justice to those who wrong society, but to also treat them with the dignity to which
they are entitled as human beings.

We have sworn to bring
justice to those who wrong
society, but to also treat
them with the dignity to
which they are entitled as
human beings.

As the debate over prison conditions has receded
from the public sphere, however, the measure of
what courts accept as humane prison conditions
has been sliding down an ever-more slippery slope.
Now is the time to live up to the international human
rights principles that the United States has promoted
and held up as the standard for all nations, including
our own nation. These principles not only bear relevance to the inherent dignity of our fellow Alaskans,
but also are necessary for ensuring that our corrections system works effectively and serves its primary
rehabilitative function.

8	

Reagan, Ronald, Farewell Address to the Nation, January 11, 1989 (referring to John Winthrop’s characterization of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony) available at http://www.reaganlibrary.com/pdf/Farewell_Address_011189.pdf .

9	

Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Dec. 10, 1984, 1465
U.N.T.S., 85, ratified by U.S. Oct. 21, 1994, available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b3a94.html.

10	 Reagan, Ronald, Message to the Senate Transmitting the Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment or
Punishment, May 20, 1988 available at http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1988/052088f.htm.

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C. What Will Reform Cost?
The Alaska Governor’s Office projects that the Department of Corrections (DOC), which
controls 11,000 prisoners, detainees, parolees, and probationers, will consume almost a
quarter of a billion dollars in 2010.11 Successful reform, while costing money in the short
run, is a wise investment that will help to reduce costs significantly in the medium- to
long-term and could save more than $300 million over the next two decades.12 In a state
where two of every three prisoners released from prison will return to prison,13 reform
efforts should begin by revamping programs that treat the leading causes of recidivism:
alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental illness.14 The provision of in-custody substance abuse
treatment and appropriate follow-up treatment after release can reduce recidivism by as
much as 40%.15 Alaska sorely needs a new approach that takes into account the special circumstances of Alaska native prisoners, who are also significantly more likely to be
re-incarcerated.16
Successful rehabilitation requires the provision of appropriate counseling, treatment programs, basic medical care, and an environment that is humane. The Alaska Sentencing
Commission has found that rehabilitation efforts are not successful in overcrowded facilities.17 All citizens who wish to see their tax dollars spent wisely, crime decreased, and
healthy, productive Alaskans reintegrated in and contributing to our society have a critical
interest in seeing that this system is reformed.

11	 State of Alaska, FY2010 Governor’s Operating Budget, Department of Corrections, Overview, available at http://gov.
state.ak.us/omb/10_omb/budget/DOC/dept20.pdf.
12	 Martin, Stephanie and Colt, Stephen, The Cost of Crime: Could The State Reduce Future Crime and Save Money by
Expanding Education and Treatment Programs? available at http://www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/Publications/researchsumm/RS_71.pdf (projecting that modest spending on rehabilitative programs could decrease the future prison population and save more than $300 million over the next 20 years).
13	 Alaska Judicial Council, Criminal Recidivism in Alaska (Jan. 2007) available at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/107CriminalRecidivism.pdfwww.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/1-07CriminalRecidivism.pdf.
14	 Id.
15	 One study of a prison-based treatment community program in Delaware showed that only 31% of prisoners who went
through the treatment community and participated in an aftercare program had a new arrest after three years, compared to 71% among prisoners who had no treatment. Martin et al., Three-Year Outcomes of Therapeutic Community
Treatment for Drug-Involved Offenders in Delaware: From Prison to Work Release to Aftercare, 79 Prison Journal 294
(1999).
16	 Alaska Judicial Council, Criminal Recidivism
07CriminalRecidivism.pdf.

in

Alaska (Jan. 2007) available at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/1-

17	 Alaska Sentencing Commission, Annual Report to the Governor and the Alaska Legislature 1 (1992), available at http://
www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/sent92.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

D. Overview of the Alaska Prison System
i. Alaska and its Geography
Alaska is by far the largest state in the union in terms of area, yet one of the smallest
in terms of overall population. It also harbors the most extreme climate of any state in
United States. Moreover, Alaska’s geography leaves many areas off the main road network,
hampering the provision of many services to those regions. These factors present unique
challenges to criminal justice and correctional programming in Alaska. Notably, the combination of vast physical size and a small, scattered population regularly presents the
Department of Corrections with difficulties in terms of allocating resources. Centralizing
prisoners and resources in the Anchorage area can alienate non-local prisoners from
their families and prevent rehabilitation in the community where the prisoners reside. On
the other hand, dispersing the prisoners and resources to smaller communities can be
expensive and limit the efficacy of some rehabilitation efforts.

ii. Alaska and its People

Both African Americans
and Alaska Natives make
up a disproportionately
high percentage of Alaska’s
prisoners.

Alaska embraces a very diverse population. The
state is a site for temporary employment for many
non-residents, especially in the fields of oil and gas
extraction, fishing and canning, and tourism. It also
has the largest proportion of native population of
any state in the United States, with roughly 13 percent identifying as native. Alaska Natives hail from
diverse traditions and tribal affiliations and, in many
areas, comprise the majority of the local population.
There are dozens of different native languages, some
of which have thousands of living speakers.

Despite their significant number, Alaska Natives remain a vulnerable minority community. From the earliest days of settlement, Alaska Natives were subject to horrendous
persecution and discrimination. European and American expansion in Alaska went unaccompanied by the treaties associated with expansion in the lower 48 states. As a result,
aboriginal claims for land were extinguished in 1971 by a statute enacted by Congress,
the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act; today, almost none of the traditionally native
territory of Alaska is on reservation lands. When Alaska was settled, native families were
separated, native children were sent to far-off schools to be “civilized,” and native culture
and language were suppressed. The civil rights of Alaska Natives were severely limited:
the right to vote was denied, Alaska Natives were frequently refused work or accommodations in shops and hotels, and the Alaska Native population lacked substantial political representation for many years. In the criminal context, Alaska Natives were freely

ACLU of Alaska

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arrested for little or no cause.
Today, in small rural villages, many residents still survive on a subsistence lifestyle of
hunting, fishing, and gathering berries and other edibles. Odd jobs, crafts, or seasonal
work supplement this lifestyle with some cash income. Alcoholism is rampant throughout the state but particularly afflicts native villages. The incidence of sexual assault is far
higher in Alaska than any other state in the union,18 and native areas are particularly affected. Alaska Natives are far over-represented as defendants in such cases, comprising
more than half of all prisoners in custody for sex offenses.19
Both African Americans and Alaska Natives make up a disproportionately high percentage
of Alaska’s prisoners. Alaska Natives, who represent 18% of the state’s population, com-

Prisoner [iStockphoto.com/William Mahar]

18	 Rosay, Andre, “Forcible Rapes and Sexual Assaults in Anchorage,” 20 Alaska Justice Forum (Winter 2004).
19	 Alaska Natives comprise 50.8% of all prisoners in custody for a sex offense. Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008
Offender Profile at 21 available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

prise 36% of the state’s prisoners.20 While accounting for only 4% of the state population,
African Americans comprise 10% of its prisoners.21 Caucasians, Hispanics and Asian &
Pacific Islanders are underrepresented overall in the prison population. The reasons for
the dramatic overrepresentation of African-Americans and Alaska Natives are complex.
This report will seek to address this topic in a limited manner, but will not provide a comprehensive answer.

iii. Alaska and its Prisons
The DOC holds roughly 3,500 prisoners at twelve Alaska prisons. The Department is unusual in that it maintains both sentenced prisoners and pretrial prisoners within the same
system. Both pretrial and sentenced prisoners can be found in every prison in Alaska.
Alaska is only one of six states that operate in this manner.22 Until recently, the Department
also contracted out the placement of roughly 750 prisoners, one in every five Alaskan prisoners, to Correctional Corporation of America. These prisoners were held at the Red Rock
Facility in Eloy, Arizona, outside of Phoenix. In December of 2009, these prisoners were
transferred to the Hudson Correctional Facility in Colorado. A few prisoners may also be
held at other out-of state facilities at any one time.
The Department operates several halfway houses (Community Residential Centers or
CRCs in the Department’s terminology). These facilities are designed as transition centers for prisoners who have been released into society. The DOC lists 13 such centers as
potential holding centers for prisoners, but the most recent census indicates that only
nine halfway houses actually hold more than two prisoners on parole or pre-release.23
These nine centers together house a maximum of more than 700 prisoners at any one
time.24 The Department also operates a growing electronic monitoring system, available
in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, Sitka, and Ketchikan. The system monitors more than 200
prisoners at a time.25
The most recent population statistics show that in-state facilities, out-of-state facilities,
halfway houses, and electronic monitoring hold more than 5,300 inmates.
20	 Id. at 12.
21	 Id. at 12.
22	 Other states that have a hybrid correctional system are Vermont, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Delaware, and Connecticut.
Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice, Prisoners in 2007, at 9.
23	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 21 available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/
admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf.
24	 In order to reduce crowding in prisons, the CRCs have been running at or near capacity since the beginning of 2009.
Alaska Department of Corrections, 2006-09 Inmate Count Sheet (showing populations between 673 and 702 at CRCs in
Alaska.
25	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2006-09 Inmate Count Sheet (showing between 215 to 226 individuals being supervised on electronic monitoring in mid-2009). According to the Department, expansion into Kodiak is being considered.

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II. METHODOLOGY
The ACLU of Alaska and its partners interviewed 153 prisoners in the Alaska prison system, or roughly 3% of all Alaska prisoners, for this report. An attorney from the ACLU of
Alaska traveled to every prison in the state, as well as to the Red Rock Correctional Facility
in Eloy, Arizona, which housed the majority of out-of-state Alaska prisoners until the recent transfer to Hudson Correctional Facility. Four students from Yale Law School visited
Anchorage and interviewed dozens of prisoners in the Southcentral region. Typically, prisoners signed up on a publicly-posted sign-up sheet the day prior to the visit. During the
visit, prisoners were called down to the visiting room and spoke with the interviewer for
anywhere from a half-hour to over an hour.
A standard interview form was used for all interviews recorded.26 While the form changed
slightly over the course of the interview process, the majority of the questions remained
the same. The prisoner responses were recorded and tracked in a database.
Other sources of information used in compiling this report were letters sent from prisoners, phone calls received from prisoners, records obtained from the Department of
Corrections, personal interviews with released prisoners, other third parties (like family
members or attorneys), media reports, and formal reports prepared by other organizations.
Conducting prisoner interviews inside a closed facility will always present unique difficulties. Several prisoners reported that other prisoners were “scared” to talk to the interviewer or feared retribution. Others expressed their own anxiety that staff might question
why they spoke to an interviewer from the ACLU of Alaska. Whether or not those fears
were grounded in truth, some prisoners may have been deterred from meeting with an
interviewer.
Unlike the prisons located in Alaska, the Red Rock Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona,
run by the Corrections Corporation of America, did not permit the posting of the interview
sign-up sheet. Representatives of the facility insisted that it was such a high-security facility that permitting prisoners to sign up for interviews would threaten institutional security. Instead, the attorney was only able to interview a limited number of prisoners whose
names were obtained from other sources. Some prisoners with legitimate concerns may
not have been able to request an interview.
Another challenge to the interview process was posed by the prisoners in higher security sections, who, in some cases, took a longer time to interview because of heightened
preparation to bring the prisoners for an interview. Faced with the choice of speaking
to fewer, high-security prisoners or more low-security prisoners, the interviewers often

26	 A sample form is provided in the Appendix.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

sought a higher volume of low-security interviewees. Future research into the conditions
in the most insular and high-security housing units, such as segregation units and mental
health units, should be seriously considered.
Throughout the report, prisoners with whom the ACLU of Alaska conducted interviews are
referred to with pseudonyms to protect their privacy. In cases in which distinguishing information was used from personal interviews, the prisoner was consulted and consented
to the release of the information. In other cases, information was obtained from media
reports, not through consultation with the prisoner. Prisoners who are now deceased are
referred to by their true first names and last initial.
Because not every individual allegation can be verified, in analyzing the data the ACLU
of Alaska has sought to report only systematic allegations of neglect and some isolated
allegations of abuse. The ACLU of Alaska understands that it is possible that not every
prisoner was wholly truthful with the interviewer and that within every system some individuals will complain. The ACLU of Alaska does not contend that the group of prisoners interviewed constitutes a representative sample or that any findings have statistical validity.
Based on statistics supplied by the Department, roughly 20% of all prisoners file at least
one grievance in a year; about 60% of the prisoners interviewed filed grievances in 2008,
indicating that the prisoners interviewed tended to have more complaints than ordinary
prisoners.27 The ACLU of Alaska has sought to report only information that has been corroborated by documentary evidence or reliable patterns of complaints reported by numerous prisoners. Many uncorroborated prisoner accounts were left out of the report because
they could not be confirmed.

27	 This corresponds with the information the ACLU of Alaska obtained from prisoners. Roughly one-third of all prisoners
interviewed indicated that they had never filed a grievance; a further one-third of all prisoners interviewed indicated
that they had filed one to three grievances in their whole history of incarceration.

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III. LEGAL FRAMEWORK
A. International Law and American Prisons
International law imposes binding obligations on the United States and the state of Alaska
regarding treatment of prisoners, and sets forth standards that can provide guidance for
reform.
Treaties or conventions are the most important source of international law. In becoming
party to a treaty, States assume binding international obligations. In the United States,
treaties must be signed by the President and ratified by the Senate. According to the U.S.
Constitution, once ratified, treaties are the “supreme law of the land,”28 on par with federal
statutes. Since the atrocities of World War II, one of the most important functions of treaties has been to define basic norms of human decency, including the humane treatment
of prisoners. Treaties signed and ratified by the United States of particular importance to
the treatment of prisoners include the Convention Against Torture (CAT), the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)29, and the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).30
Another important source of international law is customary international law, which results from “a general and consistent practice of states followed by them from a sense of
legal obligation.”31 The U.S. Constitution refers to customary international law as “the law
of nations” 32 and the Supreme Court has long recognized customary international law as
a source of legal obligation on the United States.33
An additional source of international law is resolutions adopted by the United Nations
General Assembly. The U.N. has adopted three particularly important instruments embodying international standards relating to the treatment of prisoners: the United Nations
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners,34 the Body of Principles for the

28	 U.S Const. art. VI.
29	 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, ratified by U.S. June 8, 1992, available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b3aa0.html.
30	 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Dec. 21, 1965, 660 U.N.T.S., 195,
ratified by U.S. Oct. 21, 1994, available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6b3940.html.
31	 Restatement (3d) of Foreign Relations Law 102(2).
32	 See, e.g., U.S Const. art. I, sec. 8.
33	 See e.g., Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004); The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677 (1900).
34	 United Nations, Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Aug. 30, 1955), available at http://www.unhcr.
org/refworld/docid/3ae6b36e8.html.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment,35 and the Basic
Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.36 Together with the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights,37 these instruments establish basic standards related to the treatment of
prisoners through which the United States’ legal obligations under the ICCPR, the CAT,
the CERD, customary international law, and domestic laws should be interpreted. While
these three instruments do not impose binding obligations on the United States and the
state of Alaska, they provide substantive guidance to states in the furtherance of their
treaty obligations to protect prisoners’ rights and signal the emergence of new norms and
customary international law.38

B. Domestic Law and American Prisons
The main basis for much of American prison law is the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”39 While a prison official may sometimes go out of his
way to inflict such punishment, the most common problems in prisons arise from neglect
or indifference. To cope with the conditions in prison, the United States Supreme Court
has fashioned a standard of “deliberate indifference” – prison officials are liable for their
actions when they act or fail to act knowing of a risk of harm to a prisoner.40 The Eighth
Amendment also only addresses specific kind of harms: “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain”41 and the deprivation of “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”42
These necessities include many and varied interests: among them the right not to be
housed in an environment which exposes a prisoner to danger from other prisoners;43 the
right to necessary medical treatment;44 and the right not to be housed in foul and over-

35	 Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, G.A. Res 43/173,
U.N. Doc. A/RES/43/173 (Dec. 9, 1988), available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3b00f219c.html.
36	 Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, G.A. Res. 45/111, U.N. Doc. A/RES/45/111 (Dec. 14, 1990), available at
http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/45/a45r111.htm.
37	 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217 A, U.N. Doc. A/810 (Dec. 10, 1948), available at: http://www.unhcr.
org/refworld/docid/3ae6b3712c.html.
38	 International law, including treaties, customary international law and U.N. resolutions may also guide courts and policy-makers in the interpretation of domestic laws. The Supreme Court, for example, has found international authorities
instructive in its interpretation of what treatment constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” proscribed under the
Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. See e.g., Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 578 (2005) (in striking down the
juvenile death penalty under the Eighth Amendment holding that “[t]he opinion of the world community…provide[s]
respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions.”).
39	 U.S. Const., Amdt. VIII.
40	 Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994).
41	 Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 738 (2002) quoting Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986); Gregg v. Georgia 428 U.S.
153, 173 (1976) quoting Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 392-93 (1972) (Burger, C.J. dissenting).
42	 Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).
43	 Farmer, 511 U.S. at 843-45.
44	 Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-04 (1976).

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crowded facilities.45
The right against “cruel and unusual punishment” applies only to those actually undergoing punishment – sentenced prisoners. Pretrial detainees are held awaiting trial, not
as punishment for a crime. The rights of those detained by the state while awaiting trial
are secured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.46 Pretrial detainees have the right not to be punished at all, by cruel and unusual means or otherwise,
as they have not yet been shown to be guilty.47 The treatment of pretrial prisoners must
then be “reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective” and not “arbitrary or
purposeless.”48 The protections provided to pretrial detainees must be at least as strict as
those provided to sentenced prisoners.49

45	 Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 688 (1978).
46	 Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 671 n.40 (1977).
47	 Id.
48	 Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 539 (1979).
49	 City of Revere v. Massachusetts General Hosp. 463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983).

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

IV. ANALYSIS OF ISSUES
A. Overcrowding
We have 5% of the world’s population; we have 25% of the world’s known
prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the
world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here:
either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or
we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach
the issue of criminal justice.
- Senator Jim Webb, Address to the Senate, March 26, 2009.50

In March 2008, Alaskan inmate Berry J. filed a complaint accusing his cellmate at
Anchorage Correctional Complex (also called Anchorage Jail), Elmer S., of rape. Berry
J. claimed Elmer S. would approach him after lights out, touching him inappropriately,
threatening to beat him if he protested, and promising to have him killed if he reported the
incidents. Berry J. claimed his cellmate raped him 23 times over the course of five days.
Fearing for his life, Berry J. did not report the incidents until he was transferred to another
mod. Elmer S. was ultimately arraigned and charged with the rape of Berry J.51
Elmer S. had originally been incarcerated in October 2007 for murdering his friend with a
skillet, dismembering his body, and hiding the parts in his grandmother’s freezer. Berry J.,
on the other hand, was being held in Anchorage Jail on charges of theft and forgery. During
the time of Berry J.’s confinement, the Anchorage Jail experienced exceptional overcrowding. Ordinary steps taken in many institutions to sort violent and nonviolent prisoners fell by the wayside as the jail struggled to simply house these prisoners. As local news
sources reported, “[a]bout 38,000 people are processed through Alaska penal institutions
every year and the Department just doesn’t have the money or staff to thoroughly examine
the past behavior of every person who shows up charged with a crime.”52 A positive sign

50	 Senator Jim Webb, Floor Speech to Introduce “The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009,”March 26, 2009
available at http://webb.senate.gov/issuesandlegislation/Senator-Webbs-floor-speech-introducing-the-criminaljustice-legislation.cfm.
51	 Elmer S. remains unconvicted, with a trial scheduled for 2010, according to court records.
52	 Holland, Megan, “Anchorage jail inmate files rape charges” Anchorage Daily News, 7 March 2008, available at: http://
www.adn.com/crime/story/337593.html; see also Moore, Jason, “Alleged prison rape raises cellmate assignment
questions,” 7 March 2008, available at http://www.ktuu.com/global/story.asp?s=7985064

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of the changed orientation at the Department of
Corrections is represented by the reported ongoing implementation of a revised classification
system.  Under the new system, similarly classified inmates will be housed together.

As a result of increased
prosecution and incarceration,
diminished efforts to rehabilitate
prisoners, and elimination of
judicially-imposed population
caps, the Alaska prison
population has grown by a fifth in
the last seven years.

Between 2002 and 2007, the prison population
increased 22%.53 Prior to this time, in 2001, judicial supervision over the prison system ended.
In 2002, the last major correctional facility completed by the Department began accepting prisoners and, until December 2008, no new space
had been constructed.54 The increase in prison
population was essentially accommodated by installing more beds and increasing the population cap in the existing space by 15%.55 In
addition, in three of the pretrial facilities, overflow prisoners have been housed on mattresses on the floor and in gymnasiums.

The overcrowding problem stems primarily from forces outside the control of the
Department of Corrections. The ACLU of Alaska recognizes that the Department of
Corrections has limited resources and little control over how many prisoners are admitted to the Department’s custody. Other government bodies, such as the Department of
Law, municipal police departments, the Alaska State Troopers, and the Alaska judiciary
have direct influence over the prison population. Recent efforts to expand prison capacity
– including the construction of Goose Creek Correctional Center and expansion at existing facilities – will have some impact on prison overcrowding. However, no realistic plan
for prison expansion will keep up with expansion of the population comparable to the 22%
growth seen from 2002 to 2007.56 Addressing the root causes of the increased prison population is a necessity. As more and more individuals are arrested every year, overcrowding

53	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2003 Offender Profile; Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile
available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf.
54	 Construction at Palmer Correctional Center allowed the Department to add a total of 47 beds in December 2008
and January 2009. Further construction is planned or ongoing at Wildwood, Spring Creek, and Yukon-Kuskokwim
Correctional Centers. Goose Creek Correctional Center, with a projected 1,536 medium security beds is slated for
completion in June 2012.
55	 Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23, 2007 [revised July 13,
2009] (noting that the statewide cap in April 2002 was 3,206 and the statewide cap in December 2007 was 3,696).
56	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2003 Offender Profile; Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile
available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

has become the norm instead of the short-term exception,57 and prison conditions have
violated international human rights norms and standards.

i. Introduction to Overcrowding in Alaska
As a result of increased prosecution and incarceration, diminished efforts to rehabilitate
prisoners, and elimination of judicially-imposed population caps, the Alaska prison population has grown by a fifth in the last seven years. Since no major space was created from
2002 to late 2008, the prison system was forced to house the new population in the same
space. The population caps have been increased from levels previously set by the state
and by the courts, even though only one facility has actually increased the space available
to prisoners.58 In three Alaska facilities, three prisoners are sometimes forced to sleep in
cells designed for two prisoners, or even cells designed for one, with one prisoner sleeping
on the floor on a foam mattress. Other prisoners have found themselves housed in gymnasiums.59 Such overcrowded facilities create dehumanizing living conditions, limit effective
supervision of the prison population, and inhibit successful rehabilitation of prisoners.

ii. Legal Standards Relating to Prison Overcrowding
1. International Standards
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights guarantee all persons the right to an adequate standard of
living and the right to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health.60
Furthermore, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.61 Overcrowding in prisons leads to conditions that
violate these basic and universal rights. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules
for the Treatment of Prisoners provides the most comprehensive list of the minimum
57	 The prison population seems to have stabilized somewhat, thanks in part to efforts to manage the population numbers
by the Department of Corrections. However, the problem of overcrowding, as depicted in this report, continues to exist
at levels comparable to those seen at the time of the prisoner survey. The bulk of the prisoner interviews took place
from November 2008 to January 2009 – during that period the average population of in-state prisons was 3,477. From
April 2009 to June 2009, the average population of Alaska prisons increased to 3,486. The bed space in that time expanded by 30 beds.
58	 See footnote supra describing ongoing construction projects.
59	 Some of the prison gymnasiums have returned to use as gymnasiums. The Lemon Creek Correctional Center no longer
holds prisoners in the gymnasium; the Fairbanks Correctional Center uses its gym on most days for recreation, but
does handle occasional overflow by putting prisoners on mattresses in the gym at night.
60	 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 25; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Arts.
11 and 12.
61	 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 10. See also Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons
under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, Principle 1.

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requirements for treatment of incarcerated persons covering the areas of housing, sanitation and hygiene, and exercise. 62
Each prisoner should be housed in a cell or room by himself or herself; “it is not desirable
to have two prisoners in a cell or room.”63 Where dormitories are used, the prisoners assigned to them should be selected as suitable to associate with one another, and regular
supervision should be provided at night.64 All accommodations, in particular sleeping accommodations, should meet health requirements, with special attention paid to climatic
conditions such as cubic space, minimum floor space, lighting, heating, and ventilation.65
For sanitation and hygiene, prisoners must be able to use the toilet facilities as needed
and do so in a “clean and decent” manner.66 In addition, prisoners should have access to
adequate bathing and shower installations to allow for the maintenance of general hygiene.67 In order to maintain personal hygiene, prisoners should also have access to water
and the necessary toiletries.68 Prisoners who are not permitted to wear their own clothing should be provided with clothes that are both clean and suitable for the climate.69
Clothing, including undergarments, and bedding should be changed and washed as necessary to ensure cleanliness.70

2. Domestic Standards
The general constitutional rule relating to overcrowding has been that overcrowding becomes a constitutional violation based not so much on a defined prison population that
constitutes overcrowding, but when the conditions of confinement “alone or in combination . . . deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”71 While

62	 In at least one instance, a U.S. court has recognized the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners as
relevant to Eighth Amendment claims regarding conditions of confinement. In Lareau v. Manson, the U.S. District Court
for the District of Connecticut held, “The ‘evolving standards of decency’ with which overcrowding of inmates ... are
incompatible include the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which were adopted by the United
Nations Economic and Social Council ... and thus form part of the body of international human rights principles establishing standards of decent and humane conduct by all nations.” Lareau, 507 F. Supp. 1177, 1192-93 (D. Conn. 1980).
63	 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 9; see also id., Rule 86 (“Untried prisoners shall
sleep singly in separate rooms. . . .”).
64	 Id.
65	 Id., Rule 10.
66	 Id., Rule 12.
67	 Id., Rule 13.
68	 Id., Rule 15.
69	 Id., Rule 17.
70	 Id.
71	 Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

double-celling prisoners is not per se unconstitutional under the federal constitution,72
some courts have found that double-celling can be an unconstitutional practice when the
housing practices lead to poor sanitation, poor ventilation, and the presence of vermin.73
On the other hand, at least one court has upheld the use of triple-celling.74 American court
decisions rarely make any general rules about how much crowding is constitutionally permissible, since the decisions tend to be very fact specific.

iii. Overcrowding in Alaska Prisons
1. History of Overcrowding and the Cleary Litigation
Overcrowding in Alaska’s prison facilities has existed for decades, and the problem has
intensified in the last six years, with the total population peaking in 2007.75 In 1982, Alaska
incarcerated one out of 224 adults, equal to 0.45% of the state’s adult population.76 In
2007, Alaska incarcerated one out of 88 adults, equal to 1.14% of the state’s adult population.77 Between 1982 and 2007, the adult incarceration rate grew 154%, and the state of
Alaska now has the 11th highest adult incarceration rate in the United States.78 The growth
of non-incarcerative punishment has been dramatic as well: one in 36 adults in Alaska is
now under supervision by the Department of Corrections as a probationer, parolee, detainee, or prisoner.79 In 1982, only one in 90 adults was under supervision. 80
The first efforts to tackle overcrowding in Alaska’s prisons emerged in a decades-long
class-action suit, Smith v. Cleary, a suit on behalf of prisoners complaining of multiple
constitutional violations, but primarily concerns of overcrowding. The suit was first filed
in 1981. As a part of the litigation, the Superior Court of Alaska established presumptive population caps for all Department of Corrections institutions in Alaska in 1984,
but over the following decade, the population caps were periodically exceeded. In 1990,
the state and the plaintiffs reached an agreement, which would leave the prisons under
72	 Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 543 (1979).
73	 Tillery v. Owens, 907 F.2d 418, 427-28 (1990).
74	 Hubbard v. Taylor, 538 F.3d 229 (3d Cir. 2008).
75	 The largest population in the prison system came in November 2007 when the total population of all in-state prisons hit
an average of 3,759 detainees for the month. The number of prisoners in in-state facilities in 2009 ranged from 3,601
in March 2009 to 3,436 in May 2009. Alaska Department of Corrections, Inmate Counts.
76	 See Jenifer Warren et al., Pew Center on the States, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, at 43 (2009),
available at http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/report_detail.aspx?id=49382.
77	 Id. at 43.
78	 Id. at 43.
79	 Pew Center on the States, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections: Alaska Fact Sheet (2009) available
at
http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewcenteronthestatesorg/Fact_Sheets/
PSPP_1in31_factsheet_AK.pdf.
80	 Id.

ACLU of Alaska

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Summer - Denali [© iStockphoto.com/Paul Tessier]

court supervision. During that decade, a court-appointed monitor periodically inspected
the prisons. After years of supervision, the Alaska legislature passed the Alaska Prison
Litigation Reform Act, which was intended to eliminate court supervision of the correctional system; in 2001, the Superior Court terminated the prospective relief created in
Cleary, suspending enforcement of the population caps.

2. Current State of Overcrowding
Since the suspension of the population caps, Alaska’s per capita prison population has
grown at four times the national rate, faster than the prison population in all but two
states.81 Between 1999 and 2008, the Alaska Attorney General increased the number of
prosecutions by more than 20%,82 even while the crime rate decreased by 10% and the

81	 From 2000 to 2007, the Alaska prison population increased by 106 prisoners per 100,000 residents. Only Kentucky and
West Virginia had a greater increase in per capita prison population. During that same period of time, the per capita
prison population of twelve states actually decreased, while nationally the rate of incarceration increased by only 28
prisoners per 100,000 residents. Bureau of Justice Statistics, United States Department of Justice, Prisoners in 2007,
at 5.
82	 Alaska Department of Law, 2008 Annual Report, chart at 18 (showing fewer than 25,000 prosecutions in 1999, and more
than 30,000 in 2007).

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

total number of crimes reported increased only 8%.83 The rate of admission to the Alaska
prison system has increased by 10%.84 The Alaska prison population has expanded by
24%.85 The increase of the incarceration rate has stretched the prisons’ capacity to meet
international human rights standards for the treatment of prisoners.
The expansion in the Alaska prison population has not come from increased incarceration
of violent or dangerous offenders. Since 2002, the total number of sex offenders in custody has declined by 22%.86 The number of offenders held for violent crimes has increased
only modestly – by 4%.87 The sudden growth in the prison population has come primarily
from two sources. First, the number of prisoners held for probation and parole violations
(largely for abusing alcohol and drugs while on probation and parole) has more than tripled
since 2002.88 Second, the number of prisoners held for offenses against public order and
administration (a catch-all category of non-violent offenses, like violating bail conditions
83	 Alaska Department of Public Safety, Uniform Crime Report: 2000 at 31-32 (showing that in 1999 the state population was 567,947, the total number of crimes reported was 24,922); Alaska Department of Public Safety, Uniform
Crime Report: 2007 at 31-32 (showing that in 2007 the state population was 683,478, the total number of crimes
reported was 26,941). The crime rate as a whole has dropped over that period, from 4,387 crimes per 100,000 people
to 3,942 per 100,000 people. Id. The Uniform Crime Reporting statistics have their own deficiencies, in terms of partial and inconsistent reporting of data from some municipal agencies. See Darryl S. Wood, Measures of Outcomes
Associated with Alcohol Abuse in Alaska, 21 Alaska Justice Forum 5 (Spring 2004) available at http://justice.uaa.alaska.
edu/FORUM/21/1spring2004/c_measuresofalcohol.html. However, the year-upon-year trends are still worth considering, even when taken with a grain of salt. Insofar as year-on-year trends are inaccurate, the likelihood is that the earlier
data understates the crime rate relative to recent data because more agencies are reporting data than in 1999. Alaska
Department of Public Safety, Uniform Crime Report: 2000 at 23 (showing that the reporting agencies in 1999 accounted
for districts holding 92% of the state population); Alaska Department of Public Safety, Uniform Crime Report: 2007 at
24 (showing that reporting agencies in 2007 accounted for districts holding 97.4% of the state population). Given the
increased reporting, the crime rate as a whole likely dropped more than reported between 1999 and 2007.
84	 The Alaska Department of Corrections made 33,674 admissions in 2008. Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008
Offender Profile at 8 available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf. In 1999,
the DOC made 30,366 admissions. Alaska Department of Corrections, 2002 Offender Profile at 8.
85	 The 1999 prisoner population in in- and out-of-state correctional institutions was 3,428. Alaska Department of
Corrections, 2002 Offender Profile at 10. The 2008 prisoner population in in- and out-of-state correctional institutions
was 4274. Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 8 available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/
corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf.
86	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 17 (showing 569 sex offenders in custody) available at
http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf; Alaska Department of Corrections, 2002
Offender Profile at 15 (showing 725 sex offenders in custody).
87	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 1,405 offenders in custody for crimes
against the person) available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf; Alaska
Department of Corrections, 2002 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 1,346 offenders in custody for crimes against the
person).
88	 During the prisoner interviews for this report, prisoners in custody solely for probation and parole violations were
asked the basis for their return to custody. Almost all reported the cause of the violation was a return to the use of
drugs or alcohol. The population of prisoners in custody for probation and parole violations grew from 216 in 2002 to
734 in 2008. Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 15 available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/
corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf; Alaska Department of Corrections, 2002 Offender Profile at 15. While
the population of prisoners under probation or parole supervision increased somewhat over that same time (and one
would naturally expect an increase in violations in proportion to the population under supervision), the increase in
the supervised population was only 18%, nowhere near the tripling in the number of violators. Alaska Department of
Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 64 (showing 5,813 probationers and parolees under Department supervision in
2008); Alaska Department of Corrections, 2006 Offender Profile at 64 (showing 4,927 probationers and parolees under
Department supervision in 2002).

ACLU of Alaska

19

or failing to appear in court) has also tripled since 2002.89 The higher levels of prosecution
and incarceration of these two categories of offenders have increased the prison population in Alaska by 700 in six years; had these two populations remained at their 2002 levels,
the prison population would have actually dropped since 2002.90

3. Initial Response to the Recent Prison Overcrowding
The sudden population growth as described above took place between 2002 and 2007.
This growth left the Department of Corrections in an undesirable position, where the
Department had little control over the rate of admissions to the prison system but all the
responsibility for managing the newly admitted prisoners. The rise in the prison population and in admissions to the prisons, while sudden, was also constant and foreseeable
over that period. None of the government bodies with direct impact over the prison population – the Department of Law, the legislature, the court system – took decisive action to
curtail the growth of the prison population. Faced with a growth in population that it had
limited capacity to control, the Department of Corrections went over the designated caps
in several facilities. While the Department may have had little or no alternative to put more
prisoners at each facility, the ACLU of Alaska believes the new population caps violate
basic Constitutional standards previously imposed by the court system.
Facing a prison population that increasingly pushed the designated capacities of the prisons, in April 2006, the Department of Corrections filled the gymnasiums at Fairbanks,
Mat-Su Pretrial, and the Anchorage Correctional Complex with bunks and made each
gymnasium a housing unit.91 In addition, the Department put a second bunk in about 70
one-man cells at Spring Creek and in most single cells at the Anchorage Correctional
Complex. 92

89	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 317 offenders in custody for public order and
public administration offenses) available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.
pdf; Alaska Department of Corrections, 2002 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 99 offenders in custody for public order
and public administration offenses).
90	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 10 (showing 4,274 offenders in institutional custody) available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf; Alaska Department of Corrections,
2002 Offender Profile at 10 (showing 3,625 offenders in institutional custody).
91	 Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23, 2007 [revised July 13,
2009] (indicating that the gymnasiums at all three institutions were converted to bunk space in April of 2006).
92	 Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23, 2007 [revised July
13, 2009] (indicating that all single cells at Spring Creek and most at Anchorage were converted to double cells).
Comparing the inmate count sheets from August 2007 and November 2007 indicates that the cap at Spring Creek
increased from 486 to 557 in the recalculation of the capacities of each facility. Alaska Department of Corrections,
Instate Inmate Count – August 2007; Alaska Department of Corrections, Instate Inmate Count – November 2007. In the
recalculation, the Department swapped its terminology – what once was called the “maximum capacity” became the
“emergency capacity.” Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August
23, 2007 [revised July 13, 2009]. The total capacity of the ACC-W facility went from 403 to 430 from August to November
of 2007, although the size of the facility did not change.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

The rise in the prison
population and in admissions
to the prisons, while sudden,
was also constant and
foreseeable over that period.
None of the government
bodies with direct impact
over the prison population ...
took decisive action to curtail
the growth of the prison
population.

By November of 2007, the prison population had
risen to their highest historic levels, and crowding
had become a serious problem. The total detained
population (including those detained in out-of-state
prisons, community correction centers, and on electronic monitoring) had risen 15% from the time of the
opening of the last new facility – the east wing of the
Anchorage Correctional Complex – in April of 2002.93
While some of the prison population could be shifted
to private out-of-state facilities, the in-state prison
population overshot the previously designated population caps by 15%.94 The Department made further
efforts to use any space available. After a statewide
recount of beds, the capacity of the state prisons
grew from 3,206 to 3,696.95

The population caps at each facility were set by
agreement between the state and the prisoner plaintiffs in 1990.96 In the course of eleven years of direct
court supervision from 1990 to 2001, any efforts to raise the caps were scrutinized by
Alaska courts. Each party – the Department and the plaintiff prisoners – had chances to
challenge whether the caps should rise or not. For instance, the Spring Creek Correctional
Center was built in 1988. During the Cleary supervision, the Department of Corrections
was permitted twice to raise the population cap – once by 4 beds and once by 54 beds.97
Following the cessation of court supervision, approximately 70 cells at Spring Creek were
double-bunked, and the population cap increased.98 The ACLU of Alaska contends this
represents overcrowding. We do not know if the Cleary court previously refused the state
permission to double-bunk these cells at Spring Creek, or if the Department did not request court permission to do so. However, that the population cap at Spring Creek was not

93	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2003 Offender Profile at 7 (showing a total of 4,653 individual detained in all facilities in April of 2002); Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 10 (showing a total of 5,327 individuals detained in all facilities in November of 2007) available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/
profile2008final.pdf; Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23,
2007 [revised July 13, 2009] (indicating that the east wing of the Anchorage Correctional Complex was opened in April
of 2002).
94	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Instate Inmate Count – August 2007 (showing that the in-state prison population for
August 2007 averaged at 3,721 – 15% over the designated cap of 3,248).
95	 Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23, 2007 [revised July 13,
2009] (noting that the statewide cap in April 2002 was 3,206 and the statewide cap in December 2007 was 3,696).
96	 Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23, 2007 [revised July 13,
2009] (noting that the Cleary Final Settlement Agreement put the system-wide cap at 2556).
97	 Id. (showing expansion at SCCC in 1993 and 1992).
98	 The Department of Corrections reports that most beds had previously been installed, but never had been added to the
total capacity of the facility.

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increased during the Cleary supervision, suggests to us that – while the state began to pay
millions of dollars to house prisoners in private facilities – such an increase would have
been judged excessive, either by the court or by the Department itself.
At Spring Creek and other facilities which existed in 1990, the Department raised the population caps above the Cleary levels in 2006 and 2007. In total, the statewide population
cap rose by 490 beyond the increase which resulted from the opening of the east wing
of Anchorage Correctional Complex in April 2002.99 143 of the new beds were in gyms at
Fairbanks, Mat-Su Pretrial, and the west wing of the Anchorage Complex.100 The bulk of
the other 347 beds were single cells turned into double cells at various institutions.101 The
population cap at Yukon-Kuskokwim went up from 92 to 131 (an increase of 43%), without
any major changes to the facility.102 The cap at Hiland Mountain went from 311 to 404 (an
increase of 30%).103 The dimensions and physical plant of these facilities have generally
not changed. While, absent the Cleary supervision, the cap increase does not violate a
court order, the ACLU of Alaska believes that the 2006/2007 expansion of the population
cap represents an unacceptable and unconstitutional reversal of previously agreed-upon
standards for the prison population.
While the expansion of the population caps was unfortunate, the Department also took
positive steps to cope with overcrowding. The Department of Corrections expanded the
use of community correctional residences and electronic monitoring to manage the existing population while easing the crowding within the prisons. The Department has also
created several new freestanding dorms at the Palmer Correctional Center, one of the
best-run institutions in the state; ongoing construction at Wildwood Correctional Complex
will add 32 beds. Planned expansions at other facilities and the new construction of Goose
Creek Correctional Center104 should help to ease some of the crowding as well.

99	 Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23, 2007 [revised July 13,
2009] (noting that the statewide cap in April 2002 was 3,206 and the statewide cap in December 2007 was 3,696).
100	 Id.
101	 Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23, 2007 [revised July
13, 2009] (noting that the double-celling of single cells, the “reconfiguring of space,” and the use of gymnasiums were
major ways of creating more beds).
102	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Instate Inmate Count – August 2007; Alaska Department of Corrections, Instate
Inmate Count – November 2007. The Department contends that these beds also had been added years beforehand,
but never added to the capacity of the facility.
103	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Instate Inmate Count – August 2007; Alaska Department of Corrections, Instate
Inmate Count – November 2007.
104	 The Department aims for the Goose Creek facility to emulate existing rehabilitative programs at Palmer Correctional
Center, with an aim to encourage prisoners by rewarding good behavior and progress in programming, with diminishing privileges for prisoners who fail to complete programs or for a record of misbehavior.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

4. Life in an Overcrowded Alaska Prison
a. How Space is Used in Prisons
Most prison cells in Alaska were originally intended for the use of only one prisoner, a
practice consistent with international law.105 Most cells designed for single occupancy in
Alaska, however, have been re-designated as acceptable for two-person occupancy and
have double bunks installed against the wall.106 One inmate illustrated this shift by explaining that the top bunks in many prisons today were originally intended to be shelves
for the use of the single occupant. With the exception of cells for the disabled, most cells at
the Anchorage Correctional Complex are between seven and eight feet wide and between
eleven and twelve feet deep.107 These cells range from 90 to 93 square feet in size.108
In addition to the double bunks, each cell usually has a combination toilet and sink unit installed. The occupants can place their personal property underneath the lower bunk. With
this configuration, the remaining floor space gives the prisoners a space about four feet
wide in which to stand upright next to their bunks. To give a practical example of the size
of the cells, typical housing units in the east wing of the Anchorage Correctional Complex
hold 32 cells with a total space dedicated to prisoner cells of 3,078 square feet.109 When
each of those cells has two occupants, 64 men sleep in 3,078 square feet of space. Adding
in the size of the common space available when the prisoners are able to leave their cells,
the whole housing unit has 7,036 square feet of space for all 64 prisoners.110 The newlydesignated prison capacities111 account for what the Department calls “hard beds” – actual permanent beds or bunks.
In early 2009, the Alaska correctional system as a whole fell within the designated population caps; from July 2009 on, the system has returned to an overcapacity, running at 103%
or 104% as of October 2009. In the area of overcrowding, pretrial facilities pose a special and persistent problem because pretrial detainees must be kept close to the site of
their proceedings and because the numbers of pretrial detainees may rise suddenly. The

105	 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 9.
106	 “Most of our facilities, in order to keep up with an ever increasing inmate population, added beds. While they tried
to maintain the Cleary standards, in most cases they exceeded the design capacity as well as the Cleary standards
set for each facility. . . . Most facilities attempted to accomplish this by double bunking all of their single cells. . . . ”
Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23, 2007[revised July 13,
2009].
107	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Square Footage of Cells and Day Rooms (ACC-E, ACC-W).
108	 Id. Other cells in the Anchorage complex include two units of one-man cells (76 square feet each) and one ADAcompliant cell (144 square feet) on most housing units.
109	 Id.
110	 Id.
111	 The ACLU of Alaska does not agree that the present population caps represent an appropriate or Constitutional measure of overcrowding. See discussion supra.

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Anchorage Complex, the Mat-Su Pretrial facility, and the Wildwood Pre-Trial facility have
tried to meet the demands of overflow through the practice of “triple-celling,” in which
the facility houses a third prisoner in a two-person cell, a cell that may have originally
been designed for one prisoner. Since the cell is only equipped with two bunks, the third
prisoner must sleep on the floor of the cell on a foam mattress laid in a hard plastic shell,
commonly called a “boat.”112 During the daytime, the “boat” is rolled up and stored out of
the way. When the “boat” is rolled out, however, it occupies the bulk of the existing floor
space, leaving only a four to six-inch strip of floor space between the bunk and the “boat.”
This is in direct violation of international human rights standards.113
The American Corrections Association (ACA), the organization which prescribes correctional industry standards, produces a list of standards on running correctional institutions.
They provide that each inmate should have 25 square feet of “unencumbered space” for
each single cell occupant; “unencumbered” meaning that the space occupied by furnishings like the bunks and the toilet/sink unit must be discounted from the total.114 However,
where prisoners spend at least 10 hours a day in a cell, each prisoner must have at least
80 square feet of floor space per occupant.115 These standards do post-date the construction of most of the in-state facilities, so the Department has enacted procedures requiring
that double cells be 80 square feet in size and 90 square feet if the prisoners spend 10
hours or more in the cell.116 However, even the Department’s own standards would require
140 square feet or more for a cell housing three prisoners.117 The ACA further prohibits the
use of such “boats” outright – saying that each inmate must have “a sleeping surface and
mattress at least 12 inches off the floor; storage for personal items; and adequate storage
space for clothes and personal belongings.”118 The ACA is not an inmate-rights organiza112	 The Department states that “boats” are used only to manage overcapacity. The Department states that “boats” will
never be included in the overall capacity of any facility; only permanent or “hard” beds will count towards those population caps.
113	 Rule 9(1) of the UN Standard Minimum Rules requires, “Where sleeping accommodation is in individual cells or rooms,
each prisoner shall occupy by night a cell or room by himself. If for special reasons, such as temporary overcrowding,
it becomes necessary for the central prison administration to make an exception to this rule, it is not desirable to have
two prisoners in a cell or room.” Since triple-celling has now become a long-term practice in many Alaskan prisons,
it not only violates the short-term exception in the Minimum Rules, but it also involves three people per cell, above and
beyond the reluctantly-accepted two-person-per-cell policy. Furthermore, the European Prison Rules require that
due regard must be paid to providing “floor space” and “cubic content of air” when designating sleeping accommodations. European Prison Rules, Art. 18.1. The worst overcrowding happens typically in pretrial facilities. International
law takes special note of the condition of untried prisoners and states, “Untried prisoners shall sleep singly in separate
rooms. . . .” U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 86.
114	 American Correctional Association, Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions, 4th Ed., 4-4131, at 36.
115	 Id.
116	 “In all future facilities, general population cells or rooms must have a minimum of 60 square feet for one prisoner,
80 square feet for two prisoners, and 140 square feet for three prisoners. Cells for prisoners locked down more than
10 hours per day must have a minimum of 80 square feet for one prisoner, 90 square feet for two prisoners, and 150
square feet for three prisoners.” Alaska Department of Corrections, Policy 801.01: Institutional Design Standards,
Facility Modifications & New Construction available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/801.01.pdf.
117	 Id.
118	 American Correctional Association, Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions, 4th Ed., 4-4134, at 37.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

tion. It is a reputable national correctional standards organization, whose standards are
recognized by the Department as authoritative within the industry.119
The practice of triple-celling, once an exception, is now frequently used in some pretrial
facilities in Alaska. Triple-celling was reported by several prisoners each at the Anchorage
Complex (which primarily houses pretrial prisoners), at Mat-Su Pretrial, and at Wildwood
Pre-Trial. Out of 141 prisoners interviewed, 25 said that they were currently housed in
double occupancy cells with two or more other people. A total of 90 prisoners said that
they had been housed, at some point, in a double occupancy cell with 3 or more people;
five prisoners even indicated that in during the worst overcrowding situations, they had
been housed in four-person cells for a few days. Nine prisoners said they were held in
segregation cells with three people for extended periods of time; overcrowding in segregation cells is particularly concerning, as prisoners in segregation cells are restricted to a
small cell for 23 hours a day with almost no time outside the cell.
The Department’s population figures for the period when interviews of prisoners were
conducted indicate that at several of these facilities, the population counts were close to
or at maximum capacity, not substantially over the designated capacity.120 However, the
institution-wide population numbers do not show with certainty whether prisoners are
being triple-celled. Individual housing units within an institution at or under its cap may be
overfull, while other units may have openings. The Department does not report day-by-day
populations by housing unit, so the ACLU of Alaska cannot confirm that such local overflows are occurring. However, this problem can be seen in related population numbers
within the prison system: one wing of the Anchorage Complex may be over its cap while
the other is under its cap,121 or the pretrial unit of the Wildwood facility may be over its
cap while the unit for sentenced prisoners is under its cap.122 The Department does have a

119	 The Department of Corrections uses ACA standards as references throughout its official policies and procedures. See,
e.g., Alaska Department of Corrections, Policy 806.01: Institutional Sanitation (citing to ACA standards as a source for
the policy) available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/806.01.pdf.
	
The Department also cites ACA standards in contracts with private prison contractors. Alaska Department of
Corrections, Contract #2054861, Appendix B, at 40 (requiring the Corrections Corporation of America to comply “with
all applicable ACA and NCCHC regulations”).
120	 In November 2008, the prison population at Anchorage East was 467, 51 prisoners over the max cap of 416; in December
2008, the number declined to 421; and in January 2009, 423. Alaska Department of Corrections, Inmate Counts 20062009. On the west side, the population of Cook Inlet Pretrial was 454 in November 2008, 24 over a max cap of 430, then
declined to 423 in December, but rose to 432 in January 2009. At Mat-Su Pretrial, the population was 103 in November
of 2008, one over the max of 102, but dropped below the cap to 101 and 99 in December 2008 and January 2009. Id. At
Wildwood Pre-Trial, the prison population in November 2008 was 119, over the cap of 117; in December, the average
population fell below the cap to 104, but rose again to 128 in January 2009. Id. Even these numbers are averages of daily
numbers over the month; the prison population could have been higher or lower than the monthly average on any given
day.
121	 This can be seen in the population records for the Anchorage Complex. From January 2006 to June 2009, the east wing
has never had a monthly population count under the population cap of 416. Id. The entire complex fell under its total cap
of 846 prisoners in December 2008 with an average monthly population of 845. Id. Even though the east side remained
overpopulated, the complex as a whole remained under capacity.
122	 The population records at the facility for sentenced prisoners at Wildwood show that the population has not exceeded
its current maximum capacity since January 2006.

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25

policy that prisoners should be moved from one housing unit to the next and among related institutions whenever possible to prevent crowding. While housing unit populations are
not available for review, periodic inconsistencies between the two units of the Anchorage
and Wildwood Complexes show that overcrowding does occur, even when another wing of
the same institution has openings.
The worst crowding is seen in the Anchorage Correctional
Complex, where 28 out of 30 prisoners reported being triple-celled at some point in their detention. The majority of
prisoners who had experienced triple-celling stated that it
lasted for a period of months. According to such reports,
the Anchorage Correctional Complex housed 60 people in
a space designated for 48 people and 80 people in a space
designated for 64 people. Three-quarters of the prisoners interviewed at Mat-Su reported they were currently
being triple-celled; four of nine prisoners interviewed at
Wildwood complained of triple-celling. Almost half the
prisoners interviewed at Wildwood reported the same.

The practice of
triple-celling, once
an exception, is now
frequently used in some
pretrial facilities in
Alaska.

Not all inmates in overcrowded facilities are triple-celled. Some facilities, such as YukonKuskokwim and Mat-Su, house inmates in dorms that are designed for 20 people. Almost
half the prisoners placed in such dorms reported that the dorm housed more than 20
prisoners at the time of the interview, indicating that the additional people were forced
to sleep on the floor. The facilities at Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Lemon Creek, and Wildwood
converted their gyms to house more prisoners in 2006;123 Fairbanks used its gym to house
male inmates, and Mat-Su and Wildwood have housed female inmates in their gyms for
months at a time. In Anchorage Jail, more than 40 prisoners are housed in bunks lined up
in rows within the gyms at both facilities. The gyms in Fairbanks and Lemon Creek have
returned to use as gymnasiums, not as housing, although Fairbanks periodically houses
overflow prisoners on the floor of the gym, on “boats”. However, gymnasium housing at
the Anchorage and Mat-Su Pretrial facilities continues, and the population caps at both
facilities include the gym space.124 At the time of the expansion of the prison capacity,
the Department referred to the use of gyms as housing for prisoners as “crisis overflow
inmate housing.”125 What was once labeled “crisis” housing has now become standard
housing.

123	 Memorandum from Bryan Brandenburg to Sam Edwards, Department of Corrections, August 23, 2007 [revised July
13, 2009] (noting that the capacity at Fairbanks, Mat-Su Pretrial, and Anchorage Jail were expanded by converting the
gymnasiums to housing units).
124	 Id. (showing temporary beds removed from Fairbanks gym capacity April 2009).
125	 State of Alaska, FY2008 Governor’s Operating Budget: Department of Corrections Facility-Capital Improvement Unit
Component Budget Summary, at 2, available at http://gov.state.ak.us/omb/08_OMB/budget/DOC/comp696.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

b. Risk of Harm to Prisoners
Overcrowding poses risks to the safety of the prisoners because they face physical hazards
in such crowded facilities. Two prisoners reported injuring themselves when they climbed
down from the top bunk and tripped over the “boat.” Two other prisoners reported injuries
from falls related to the overcrowded conditions in gymnasiums used as dormitories. 126
When a space not designed as living quarters - a facility’s gymnasium – becomes a living
space, unanticipated problems can arise. One prisoner in Anchorage reported that the
gymnasium had no heating; another reported that the thermometer in the gym read 42
degrees one morning in late 2008,127 and a third reported that the gym was cold enough to
keep him from sleeping and that he had to use three blankets to keep warm at night. This
failure to provide appropriate ventilation and temperature control violates international
human rights standards outlined in the UN Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of
Prisoners. 128
When discussing overcrowding and the implications crowding has on prisoners, one must
recall that a prisoner lives in a small cell – typically 90 or 93 square feet at the Anchorage
Correctional Complex129 – that functions as both bedroom and bathroom for prisoners.
When a third prisoner must sleep in this space, he sleeps on a foam mattress, laid inside
a plastic shell, on the floor. Given the limited space, the “boat” and the individual lying in it
rests a foot or two away from an open toilet. This leaves limited room for a cellmate wishing to use the toilet at night. Because of the proximity to the toilet, individuals sleeping on
the floor at facilities where prisoners were triple-celled complained about the odors coming from the toilet or of splashed or spilled urine on the floor.130 Taking a small room that
serves as both a bedroom and a bathroom and housing three prisoners in it, with one on
126	 In order to protect prisoner confidentiality, the names of those prisoners injured were not revealed to the Department;
as such, the Department cannot address these claims.
127	 The Department states that the temperature never sank below 56 degrees. The Department further indicates that the
heating in the gymnasium was fixed.
128	 The rules require that the prison system pay “due regard . . . to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content
of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation.” UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of
Prisoners, Rule 10.
129	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Square Footage of Cells and Day Rooms (ACC-E, ACC-W).
130	 Domestic courts have found that exposure to human waste evokes health concerns and general standards of dignity
embodied in the Eighth Amendment. See DeSpain v. Uphoff, 264 F.3d 965, 974-975 (10th Cir. 2001) (noting that “exposure to human waste carries particular weight in the conditions calculus.”); McCord v. Maggio, 927 F.2d 844, 848 (5th
Cir. 1991) (“unquestionably a health hazard” to live in “filthy water contaminated with human waste”); Fruit v. Norris,
905 F.2d 1147, 1150-51 (8th Cir. 1990) (“common sense” that “unprotected contact with human waste could cause disease . . . [and] courts have been especially cautious about condoning conditions that include an inmate’s proximity to
human waste”); Johnson v. Pelker, 891 F.2d 136, 139 (7th Cir.1989) (three days in cell with feces smeared on walls not
within “civilized standards, humanity, and decency”); LaReau v. MacDougall, 473 F.2d 974, 978 (2d Cir. 1972) (“Causing
a man to live, eat, and perhaps sleep in close confines with his own human waste is too debasing and degrading to be
permitted.”); Michaud v. Sheriff of Essex County, 458 N.E.2d 702, 705-06 (Mass. 1983) (listing cases showing “an intolerance for confinement which requires persons to live in close proximity to their own human waste and that of others”).
Furthermore, with regard to sleeping accommodations, the European Prison Rules demand that due regard be paid to
“health and hygiene.” European Prison Rules, Art. 18.1.

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the floor, inevitably leads to affronts to basic human dignity.131 No one would ask someone
else to sleep on the floor of a public restroom.
In response to problems with some prisoners flushing the toilets excessively, flush regulators were installed on the toilets in prisoner cells in most institutions. These regulators
prevent the toilets from flushing more than twice in five minutes. If a prisoner flushes the
toilet twice in five minutes, the toilet shuts down for an hour. The added demand imposed
on the toilets from a third prisoner – and periodic cases of a full but unflushable toilet
making a cell hard to inhabit for an hour132 – generated numerous complaints from prisoners. While the need to prevent excessive flushing and flooding of cells is important, the
combination of the flush regulators and triple-celling imposes an unpleasant hardship on
prisoners. Overcrowding transformed what might otherwise be a reasonable policy decision to prevent vandalism into one that created further problems within the prison system.
Some prisoners also reported an insufficient number of bathroom facilities to serve the
population.133 One prisoner housed in the Anchorage gym reported that there were only
two toilets, two urinals, three sinks, and one shower provided for 40 or more prisoners.
Another prisoner in a dorm full of 40 prisoners stated that they also only had two toilets
available for use and a total of three sinks, but only one of the sinks was functioning properly. A third inmate reported that while housed for two months in one facility’s gym, only
2 bathrooms were available for the 100 prisoners. Yet another inmate reported spending
5 months in a gym in another facility with 20 other prisoners with only one toilet in the
corner. The American Corrections Association requires one toilet for every 12 male prisoners and for every 8 female prisoners. Several of the facilities using gyms as dormitories
violated the ACA rules on the availability of toilets.134
Aside from insufficient bathroom facilities, prisoners also noted other sanitation and hygiene issues. Prisoners complained of mold and dust in the cells, even hair falling out of
the vents. At one facility, the interviewer was able to observe an abnormally heavy coating
of dust and hair collected in the interview area. In addition, several prisoners reported
that they were not receiving clean changes of clothing and bedding on an adequate basis.
This failure to pay “due regard” to ventilation for these prisoners amounts to a violation of

131	 See ICCPR, Art. 10; CAT, preamble; see also European Prison Rules, Art. 18.1, UN Standard Minimum Rules for the
Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 60(1).
132	 The UN Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states, “The sanitary installations shall be adequate to enable
every prisoner to comply with the needs of nature when necessary and in a clean and decent manner.” UN Minimum
Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 12. If a prisoner cannot access a clean toilet for an entire hour, he cannot
“comply with the needs of nature when necessary.” See also European Prison Rules, Art. 19.3.
133	 The reports of insufficient bathroom facilities came from prisoners housed in the gyms at Fairbanks, Wildwood, and
Anchorage.
134	 American Correctional Association, Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions, 4th Ed., 4-4137, at 38. Urinals may
count as toilets, but only for up to half the total for male institutions. Id.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

Prison cell interior [© iStockphoto.com/Giorgio Fochesato]

international human rights standards. 135
Vermin was not widely reported, with one exception. Female prisoners at Hiland reported
a shrew problem within the facility. The Department indicates that since the interviews
were conducted, Hiland has received monthly visits from an exterminator to address the
shrew problem.
While overcrowding does not necessarily cause all of the above sanitation and hygiene issues, these conditions have combined in some Alaskan prisons to create an environment
that offends the dignity of incarcerated persons.
Confinement within cramped and crowded spaces also creates health hazards such as
increased risks of infections and contagious diseases. Prisoners interviewed at both
Anchorage facilities, Hiland, Fairbanks, Wildwood, Seward, and Mat-Su reported that
staph infections existed within their prison. Several commented that the prison staff wore
gloves to protect themselves from infection, as diseases can be communicated through
touching commonly used surfaces. One prisoner stated that he was placed in a cell with
an inmate with scabies and caught it soon after. In general, prisoners reported eczema,
boils, and other common skin infections as some of the more common health complaints.
A media-reported fear is the presence of a drug-resistant infection known as methicillinresistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Prisoners interviewed by the ACLU of Alaska
135	 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 10, Rule 11a. See also European Prison Rules,
Article 18.1, Art. 21.

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rarely reported confirmed MRSA infections. The reports
included no personal accounts of infection, nor did any
prisoners report knowing of more than one prisoner with
MRSA. The Department indicated that the common practice is to culture any skin infections that do not respond to
initial treatment. The testing performed so far indicates
that the level of MRSA infections is very low.

Taking a small room
that serves as both
a bedroom and a
bathroom and housing
three prisoners in it,
with one on the floor,
inevitably leads to
affronts to basic human
dignity.

Legislators and members of the general public ought to
care about the overcrowding in Alaska facilities, because
overcrowding is debilitating to the mental health of the
individual and inhibits rehabilitation. As described above,
the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of such close
quarters violate prisoners’ rights to human dignity. Many
prisoners enter these facilities already struggling with
anxiety and depression. These prisoners also may be going through withdrawal from substance addiction, dealing
with frustrating familial situations, or coming back from court with bad news about the
progress of their cases. In an overcrowded cell, a prisoner lacks a space to call his own.
Add to these stressors a toilet which limits flushing and limited opportunities to move outside the cell or get exercise, and imagine whether the effect of staying in such a crowded
institution tends to reform an individual or to make him feel more degraded.

c. Overcrowding and Movement within the Prison
Overcrowding and the conditions associated with it are further exacerbated by the lockdown conditions in the Anchorage Complex. During lockdown, prisoners are only allowed
to use common areas, like the dayroom, in 90-minute shifts, alternately spending 90
minutes in their cells and 90 minutes out. Twenty-one out of 33 prisoners held in the
Anchorage facilities reported that the prison had instituted lockdowns.136 The Department
of Corrections indicated that the practice is done when individual housing units at the
Anchorage facilities are overfull, since there is not enough room for all the prisoners to
leave their cells at one time. On a typical housing unit with 32 cells, the common spaces
are sufficient for 64 prisoners; when the population on the unit goes substantially above
the 64 prisoner limit, the prisoners on that unit cannot simultaneously use the unit’s dayroom. Rather than permit an unsafe number of prisoners to use the dayrooms, the officers
keep some prisoners in their cells while others use the dayroom. The common areas are
used, essentially, in shifts. While the practice may be necessary in an overcrowded facility,
it is done at the expense of the prisoners, who remain in their cramped quarters for a total

136	 Forty-four out of 136 of the prisoners interviewed reported lockdowns. Eight out of 14 prisoners at Seward cited this as
a problem.

30

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

of 12 to 18 hours a day overall.137
The practice of lockdown and the conversion of gyms into housing facilities deny the prisoner access to exercise, recognized by international human rights standards as an important need for prisoners.138 Every prisoner not employed in outdoor work should have at
least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily, weather permitting. Furthermore,
those prisoners of suitable age and physique should have access to physical and recreational training as well as the space and equipment necessary for this. When prisoners
have no gym to go to, they must choose between going to the outdoor exercise yard (if one
is available) and getting no exercise at all. And when the corrections officers declare that
the weather is too foul or too cold for exercise in the yard, prisoners are simply unable to
exercise. In Alaska, the coldest state in the United States, this happens frequently, leaving
the prisoners without any options for exercise. Even after the conversion of gyms back into
recreational spaces, some prisoners at Lemon Creek and Fairbanks reported that they
could not use the gym or the yard because of insufficient staff available to monitor them.
Overcrowding of Alaska’s prisons has led the Department of Corrections to send hundreds
of Alaskan prisoners to Arizona, where they are kept in the custody of a private prison contractor. The move was promoted in 1995 as a temporary relief for overcrowding in Alaska.
Fourteen years later, between 750 and 879 inmates139 have been in the custody of the
Corrections Corporation of America at the Red Rock Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona,
which is 3,000 miles from Alaska.140 Not only are these prisoners held outside the reach
of their families, but they are also further removed from the Department of Corrections’
monitoring of prison conditions. The Department of Corrections is only able to run monthly audits141 of conditions at the Arizona facility. Hopefully, these prisoners will be able to
return to the state of Alaska after the construction of the Goose Creek facility.
International standards require that pretrial and convicted prisoners alike should be
treated with dignity, and that unconvicted persons, in light of their presumed innocence,

137	 American Corrections Association standards note that if “confinement exceeds 10 hours per day,” the cell must contain at least 80 square feet of space. The same provisions also demand that each prisoner confined to a cell at least
10 hours a day have “a sleeping surface and mattress at least 12 inches off the floor.” The practice of triple-celling in
conjunction with the prevalence of lockdowns violates these industry standards. American Correctional Association,
Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions, 4th Ed., 4-4131, at 36-37.
138	 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 21. The European Committee for the Prevention of
Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has also recognized the need for daily outdoor exercise
for all prisoners, without exception. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment, 2nd General Report, CPT/Inf(92)3, at 18. See also European Prison Rules, Article 27.1.
139	 Monthly averages of the Alaska prisoner population at Red Rock have ranged in 2009 from 750 in August of 2009 to 879
in January. Alaska Department of Corrections, 2006-09 Inmate Count Sheet.
140	 The difficulty of visiting family members in an Arizona facility is a more dramatic manifestation of a problem inherent in
the whole prison system. A family from rural Alaska might have trouble visiting a prisoner held in Southcentral Alaska.
141	 Under the recent administration, periodic visits to Red Rock have taken place each month since August 2007, by the
contract monitor and the Director of Institutions. The Department also has probation officers located in Eloy two weeks
of each month.

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be treated accordingly.142 They should not be detained as a general rule143 and, if detained,
they should be kept separate from convicted prisoners.144 The Alaska prisons do not meet
these standards, with multiple prison facilities mixing pretrial and convicted prisoners in
the same housing units. In those institutions, the sentenced prisoners have better access
to jobs, rehabilitative programs, and medical care,145 since those programs are often reserved to sentenced prisoners and only sentenced prisoners can obtain certain medical
treatments. The Department is currently working with other community based organizations to create a new plan for the re-entry of prisoners.

iv. Recommendations on Overcrowding
1. Attorney General’s Office
The Attorney General’s office needs to review their prosecution policies. Even as violent
crime rates and homicide rates decline, the Attorney General’s office continues to lodge
more and more cases, resulting in more and more individuals being held awaiting trial,
and more and more individuals sentenced to lengthy terms. Almost a third of all prisoners
held in custody are in on alcohol, drug, and property crimes. The Attorney General’s office
should seriously consider expanding the use of diversionary programs and prosecutorial
discretion in order to limit the number of cases brought and the number of individuals who
end up in custody.
Further, the Attorney General’s office needs to work more with tribal governments and rural villages to resolve some cases at the village level. Tribal governments can and should
be trusted to resolve misdemeanor and less serious felonies. Most of these crimes are
rooted in social ills, like alcoholism. These ills are better addressed in the village community than in a correctional facility. The promotion of therapeutic and preventive efforts
was a major recommendation of the fine inquiry already done by the Alaska Rural Justice
Commission. Rather than adopting these sensible and important goals, the state’s major
response seems to be the hiring of more prosecutors and troopers to prosecute. The state
appears ready to oppose federal legislation which could lead to improved justice admin-

142	 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 84(2), Rule 85. See also Body of Principles for the
Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, Principle 8.
143	 Alaska Const., Art. 11 (“The accused is entitled . . . to be released on bail . . . .”); AS § 12.30.030 (“The defendant in a
criminal proceeding is entitled to be admitted to bail before conviction as a matter of right if the alleged victim can be
reasonably protected through the imposition of bail and conditions of release.”).
144	 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 9.3 and 10.2. See also European Prison Rules, Article 18.8.
145	 Certain procedures are permitted to sentenced, but not unsentenced, prisoners. For instance, most dental care (other
than tooth extractions), preventive screenings (including Pap smears, mammograms, and prostate exams), hearing
aids, glasses, hepatitis C treatment, and preexisting joint injuries are not provided to unsentenced prisoners. Alaska
Department of Corrections, Policy 807.02, Attachment A: Prisoner Health Plan, Appendix at 39-40 available at http://
www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/807.02aa.pdf.

32

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

500%
The number of inmates' is up 500%

400%
300%

Infiation-adjusted state operations
spending for justice system b is up 192%

200%
100%

Crime rate{ are down about 30%

f~::=::::;;:~::~::~=~~~~;;~

-30%~
0%

1981 83

8S

87

89

91

alnmatl'~ in prison~ }ails, and halfWay houses

93

9S

97

2000

02

04

06

07

bSpending for Ofpartments of(orrections, Public Safety, and law; court systl'm; Division of Juvenile Justice; Public
Defender Agency; and OfficeofPublic Advocacy. Does not ilKlude capital spending or payment on debt
(Rates per 100,000 for murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle tlleft.
Sources: U.s. Department of Justice; ~ate budget documents; Alaska Department ofCorrfCtions
Changes in Prison Population, Prison Spending, and Crime Rate: 1981-2007 [From: Martin, Stephanie and Colt, Steve, Institute for Social and Economic Research, “The Cost of Crime: Could The State Reduce Future Crime and Save Money by Expanding
Education and Treatment Programs?”]

istration in rural Alaska and decreased strain on the court and corrections systems.146
The Alaska Sentencing Commission noted many years ago that tribal courts, in resolving
some quasi-criminal matters, had “credibility” within the community and were “effective”
in resolving the problems facing the community.147 Prosecution of rural crimes may be an
important goal, but failing to adopt the other important goals of the Alaska Rural Justice
Commission may make increased prosecution counterproductive.

2. Legislature
The legislature plays an important role in determining the amount of time prisoners spend
in custody. First, by decriminalizing harmless activity, the legislature could limit the initial number of arrests. The ACLU of Alaska has diligently fought the legislature’s effort
to reintroduce a state law criminalizing the use of small amounts of marijuana in private
146	 Demarban, Alex, State Opposes Senate Effort to Increase Alaska Tribal Police Powers, Tundra Drums, Aug. 6, 2009 (indicating Deputy Attorney General Svobotny had opposed the introduction of S. 797, the Tribal Law and Order Act, a federal
bill which would permit the extension of criminal jurisdiction to 5 tribal courts in Alaska).
147	 Alaska Sentencing Commission, 1992 Annual Report to the Governor and the Alaska Legislature) at 20, available at
http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/sent92.pdf.

ACLU of Alaska

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homes. The legislature’s effort to criminalize essentially harmless behavior shows that
the legislature does not take the problems of prison overcrowding and the heavy judicial
caseloads seriously. Even if many marijuana possession cases would not result in prison
sentences, the more cases that are added to the judicial caseload, the more other trials
will be delayed, extending the length of stay of pretrial detainees throughout the system. The legislature should comprehensively review other criminal statutes and question
whether the actions they target deserve criminal penalties.
The legislature should create a sentencing commission with the authority to review and
recommend changes to the sentencing laws in Alaska. In the early 1990’s, Alaska had a
Sentencing Guidelines committee which produced numerous well-thought out suggestions for criminal justice reform; unfortunately, too few of the suggestions were enacted by the legislature.148 The current pattern of piecemeal legislation creates an uneven
patchwork of sentencing policies and encourages enactment of excessively harsh penalties. A recent example was the increase of mandatory sentencing minimums on sex offenses. In 2006, the legislature amended the sentencing statute to make the mandatory
minimum for a first-time sexual assault against a person 13 years old or older a twenty
year sentence.149 The mandatory minimum for a sexual assault against a child under 13 is
now a twenty-five year sentence.150 While sex offenses are serious ones, the new statutory
minimums were enacted despite ample evidence that first-time sex offenders are in fact
those least likely to reoffend.151 Such harsh penalties create perverse incentives. The mandatory minimum sentence for first-degree murder in Alaska is a twenty year sentence.152
The legislature has made the mandatory minimum for killing a child less onerous than
the mandatory penalty for sexually abusing a child. To avoid the creation of such perverse
incentives, the legislature should create a sentencing commission to recommend criminal
justice bills to the legislature and to supervise wholesale revision of the sentencing procedures in Alaska.
Another means for preventing the overcrowding of Alaska facilities would be to enact legislation that would require the provision of fiscal impact statements to be provided with
every bill that would introduce a new offense, increase the mandatory minimum for an
148	 The Alaska Sentencing Commission produced two important reports during its period of commission from 1990 to
1993. Alaska Sentencing Commission, 1990 Annual Report to the Governor and the Alaska Legislature) available at
http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/sent90.pdf; Alaska Sentencing Commission, 1992 Annual Report to the Governor
and the Alaska Legislature) available at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/sent92.pdf.
149	 AS § 12.55.125 (i)(1)(A)(ii) (2009).
150	 AS § 12.55.125 (i)(1)(A)(ii) (2009).
151	 A recent study found that, for prisoners released in 2001, 68% of sex offenders were returned to custody, while 72%
of non-sex offenders were returned to custody; 54% of sex offenders were arrested for new charges, while 68% of
non-sex offenders were arrested for new charges; and 39% of sex offenders were convicted of a new offense, while
only 35% of non-sex offenders were convicted of a new offense. McKelvie, Alan R., Recidivism of Alaska Sex Offenders,
25 Alaska Justice Forum 14 (2008) available at http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/forum/25/1-2springsummer2008/g_recidivism.html. The study found that there was no significant difference in the incidence of rearrest for a sex offense
between sex offenders and non-sex offenders. Id.
152	 AS § 12.55.125 (a) (2009).

34

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

If the legislature continues
to mandate long sentences
and neglect the prison
system, the prison system
will rapidly become more
crowded than manageable.

offense, or increase the grading or sentencing range
for an offense.153 As an example above, the cost of
incarcerating a single person for 25 years exceeds
one million dollars. Enacting broad-brush legislation
that sends dozens of offenders to million-dollar sentences is a costly policy, when the overall likelihood
of recidivism is no higher than for other felons.

Imposing these stiff penalties – especially in a prison system already crowded with its current prison
population – could even threaten public safety. If the
legislature continues to mandate long sentences
and neglect the prison system, the prison system will rapidly become more crowded than
manageable. A potential result of an intractable crowding situation could be a judicial
order to release a certain number of prisoners. The legislature is better off making its
own reasoned and thoughtful decisions about criminal justice; irresponsible expansion of
criminal penalties will result in judges making decisions about who should be released at
a later time.
Mandatory minimum statutes, by their nature, play a sentencing role exclusively in the
case where the judge considers that the unique characteristics of the case indicates that
the defendant should get a sentence less than that required by statute. A “one size fits all”
penalty is appropriate for few, if any, crimes. The legislature should return to judges the
authority to take into consideration the particulars of the crime and the particulars of the
defendant in rendering a sentence, and instead allow a sentencing commission of criminal
justice professionals to suggest guidelines for how judges ought to sentence prisoners.
The legislature should continue to fund and encourage the Department of Corrections in
its ongoing efforts to restore the system of rehabilitative programs for prisoners. This is
a crucial part of fixing overcrowding. Two-thirds of all prisoners released from custody
are re-incarcerated within three years. Fourteen percent of all prisoners in custody are in
custody for probation and parole violations. Most of the probation and parole violations are
substance abuse-related, either for positive drug tests, reports of a return to substance
abuse, or absconding from supervision related to substance abuse. By successfully treating substance abuse and other problems, the Department of Corrections can decrease the
number of individuals returning to prison.
Closely tied to this effort should be the institution of a re-entry program, where staffers
would assist prisoners awaiting release to find a job or public benefits, housing, and appropriate medical and psychiatric care on release. While some prisoners have families,

153	 A similar program has been introduced in Virginia, which requires the Virginia Sentencing Commission to produce a
statement of costs for any legislation which would impose a heavier burden on the corrections system. Va. Code Ann.
§ 30-19.1:4 (2009).

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homes, and jobs to return to, far too many find themselves jobless and living in homeless
shelters upon release from custody. That environment is possibly the worst imaginable
circumstance for an individual trying to escape a criminal past or an addiction.
The issue of reformation, reentry, and rehabilitation programs will be considered further
in an upcoming report to be released in 2010. The discussion here is intended to be merely
a brief summary of the relevant points.
3. Judiciary and Parole Board
The courts play an important role in the overcrowding issue because the courts are the
gateway for prisoners at two crucial points. First, the imposition of excessive bail and restrictive bail conditions keeps many inmates who are low flight-risk detainees in custody.
Especially disturbing is the overuse of the third-party custodian term, requiring that a
detainee be constantly in the presence of someone while out on bail. Judges frequently
impose the third-party requirement without making the statutorily required inquiry as to
whether that level of supervision is necessary.
The second gatekeeper role of the courts is in the role of dealing with probation violations.
The parole board handles alleged violations of parole for released prisoners on parole.
Fourteen percent of all prisoners in the Alaska correctional system were in custody for
parole or probation violations in 2007. While many violations of probation and parole conditions are very serious, probationers and parolees are sometimes brought before a judge
or the parole board for minor violations.154 For instance, a parolee under supervision in
the Mat-Su Borough would typically not be allowed to leave the borough. Yet that same
parolee might need to travel to Anchorage for medical care or to see family members. In
those circumstances, an hour-long drive to Anchorage could result in a jail term. Another
common problem is the problem of relapse. Frequently, an alcoholic or drug addict will
return to substance abuse. Relapsing three or four times is extremely common; in the
terms of rehabilitative programs, relapse is part of the process. Long-term incarceration
is generally not appropriate for a relapse, especially if the parolee remains sincerely willing to try to beat his or her addiction. The judiciary and the state parole board should take
care to deal with minor infractions without resorting to incarceration, and should deal with
relapse as an understandable part of curing an addiction.
As noted previously, the number of prisoners in custody for violations of parole and proba-

154	 In response to points raised by this report, the Department reviewed probation records from the municipality of
Anchorage office. The Department reported that 49% of all probation or parole revocations in Anchorage took place
as a result of new convictions; the remainder was for “technical violations” – violations of other terms of probation or
parole.

36

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

tion has tripled in the last six years.155 The judiciary or the Alaska Judicial Council should
consider launching a study of probation and parole violations and sentencing for probation
and parole violations. Numerous questions about the origin of this expansion of incarceration for probationers and parolees arise: do particular judges hand down disproportionately harsh sentences to prisoners for probation and parole violations? Are particular
probation and parole officers responsible for a disproportionate number of violations? Do
violations occur disproportionately in geographic areas where substance abuse treatment
and other rehabilitative programs are non-existent, scarce or subject to long waiting lists?
Similarly, the tripling in the number of individuals in custody for public order and public
administration offenses in that same period is worrisome.156 Many of these cases arise
from judicial actions, like setting bail. For instance, in 2002, nine people were in prison for
failure to appear; in 2008, 51 people were in custody for failure to appear.157 In 2002, ten
people were in prison for violating bail conditions; in 2008, 50 were in prison for violating
bail conditions.158 Prisoners in custody for those two offenses comprise almost one-third
of the 317 prisoners in custody for public order or public administration offenses. The judiciary or the Alaska Judicial Council should take a careful look at why judges are sending
so many people to jail for not appearing in court or for violating the terms of release. While
judges understandably wish to address problems of failure to appear for trial and other
proceedings, the sudden rise in the number of individuals - from nine to 50 - incarcerated
for failure to appear over a six year span suggests that some judges may have overreacted
to a failure to appear or added excessive amounts of bail. A defendant who gets a court
date confused and shows up a day late for court does not present the same future risk
of flight as a defendant who leaves town and is captured by state troopers months later.
If some judges have begun “throwing the book” at more defendants who miss court because of carelessness, as in the first example, rather than reserving the harshest penalties for deliberate flight, as in the second example, then you might see this sudden rise in
incarceration for failure to appear. The increased number of individuals incarcerated for
failure to appear may also be a product of the increased number of cases brought by the
Department of Law; the more defendants there are, the more chance that defendants will
not show up for a court date.

155	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 734 offenders in custody for probation and
parole violations); Alaska Department of Corrections, 2002 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 216 offenders in custody for
probation and parole violations).
156	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 317 offenders in custody for public order and
public administration offenses); Alaska Department of Corrections, 2002 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 99 offenders
in custody for public order and public administration offenses).
157	 Id.
158	 Id.

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B. Special Institutional Focus: Red Rock Correctional Center
The best practice for housing prisoners, and the desired policy of the Department of
Corrections, is to house prisoners in their home communities. As a result of the increased
population burdens imposed on the correctional system and limited resources in rural areas, keeping prisoners in remote communities is often difficult or impossible. When prisoners must be housed in one centralized location, certainly the best answer is to house
prisoners in an area accessible to the most number of families, such as Southcentral
Alaska. The Alaska Supreme Court has recognized the key role that visitation plays in
rehabilitation. Family visitation is “critical to . . . the ultimate rehabilitation of the prisoner
by strengthening his ties with the ‘free world.’”159 Although distances within Alaska are
daunting for some families, especially from rural areas, thousands of prisoners are held
in Southcentral Alaska, the major population center for the state. The Department reports
that all pretrial detainees would ideally be held in their home district where possible,
while prisoners serving a year or longer sentence would be moved to a central facility
in Alaska where rehabilitative programming is available. In a system where housing all
prisoners in their home communities would be difficult, housing prisoners in Southcentral
Alaska is the next best option, since fewer prisoners will find themselves at long distances
from their families. Housing prisoners out of state presents more challenges for more
prisoners and their families than in-state housing.
In 1995, the Department of Corrections began moving prisoners to private facilities in
Arizona to relieve overcrowding in Alaska prisons. This was described at the time as a
“temporary measure.” From 1995 through 2009, prisoners have been housed out of state,
first at the Central Arizona Detention Center, then the Florence Correctional Center, then
the Red Rock Correctional Center, yet because of continuing stress on the correctional
system this “temporary” relief for overcrowding in Alaska prisons has not been eliminated. As of August of 2009, the Department of Corrections signed a new contract with the
Cornell Corporation to house Alaska prisoners at a private facility in Colorado. Since the
legislature and the Department of Law have not taken steps to manage the growth of the
prison population, a one-time temporary fix has become a fixture.

Most prisoners, who are largely indigent, miss important visits from family, friends, or
loved ones once moved to the Red Rock Correctional Center.160 While in-state travel can be
expensive, the distance and cost of travel to Arizona would be almost insurmountable for

159	 Brandon v. Dep’t of Corrections, 938 P.2d 1029, 1032 (Alaska 1997) quoting ABA Standards for the Administration of
Criminal Justice, 14 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 377, 502 (1977).
160	 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 37, Rule 87, Rule 92. See also Body of Principles for
the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, Principle 15, Principle 16(1), Principle 19.;
European Prison Rules, Article 17.1, Article 24.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

an impoverished family.161 On visiting the facility, the interviewer met with many prisoners who had been in Arizona for many years, moving from the Central Arizona Detention
Center to Florence to Red Rock. Some had never received a family visit in all their time
in Arizona. The lack of family visits inhibits the eventual rehabilitation of the prisoners by
preventing the maintenance of family bonds that play a crucial role at the time of release.
Recognizing the importance of family bonds, the Department plans to install a videoconferencing system at the new facility to allow prisoners in Colorado to see and speak to
family members in Alaska when in-person visits are not possible.
The difficulty of family visits prevents inspection of the
facility by one potential group of prisoner advocates:
Family visitation is
prisoner families. The distance and expense of travel
also inhibits groups like the ACLU of Alaska or media
“critical to . . . the ultimate
organizations from making visits to examine the prisrehabilitation of the prisoner
ons’ conditions. The major investigator at the facility
is the Department-employed contract monitor, a forby strengthening his ties
mer prison warden, who makes monthly visits to the
with the ‘free world.’”
facility to ensure that the terms of the contract are
observed and enforced. As the Department moves
Alaska prisoners to the new facility in Colorado, a
different monitoring regime will begin; by Colorado law, the Cornell Corporation must
maintain investigators at its facilities. The Department will continue to have periodic visits
by the contract monitor and the Director of Institutions. Alaska probation officers will also
work at the facility regularly.
Another difference between the Red Rock Correctional Center and Alaska facilities is the
fact that Red Rock is a privately-run facility and the only for-profit facility in the Alaska
system. A persistent concern about the entry of private facilities into the correctional market is that these corporations will increase their profits by eliminating some fixed costs,
like reducing staffing levels or eliminating services. The major restraint on the private
facilities violating the contract is continued monitoring and enforcement of the terms of
the contract by the home state. Since the public awareness of prison conditions and the
political pressure to monitor conditions at private facilities are minimal, in some states,
contract monitoring can be poor, providing no incentive for the facility to maintain the
contractually required standards. In Alaska, the monitoring was initially irregular; even
though monthly monitoring visits were described in the contract, the contract monitor did

161	 A quick survey of the Alaska Airlines Web site (using the low fare calendar feature) revealed that the cheapest roundtrip flight from Nome to Phoenix would cost $936, while the cheapest flight from Nome to Anchorage would cost $450.
The cheapest flight from Barrow to Phoenix would cost $1,091, while the cheapest flight from Barrow to Anchorage
would cost $577. The cheapest flight from Bethel to Phoenix would cost $946, while the cheapest flight from Bethel to
Anchorage would cost $421. The only destination where the costs of travel to Anchorage and to Phoenix were comparable was for travel from the city of Ketchikan. The cheapest flight from Ketchikan to Phoenix would cost $476, while
the cheapest flight from Ketchikan to Anchorage would cost $461.

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Guard Tower [© iStockphoto.com/Sherwin McGehee]

not begin making consistent monthly visits until August 2007.162 Since regular visits began
in August 2007, however, the contract monitor has made regular visits and sent regular memos on her visits to the Department of Corrections.163 Even when states carefully
monitor the conditions at contract facilities, enforcing the terms of a contract can prove
challenging against a private entity determined not to comply. Where the amount of money
at stake is less than the cost of conducting the litigation, even an identified problem can
prove challenging to fix.
A major cost-cutting measure at Red Rock has been staff reduction. Even though required
staffing is set by contract between Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the
Department of Corrections, the staffing at Red Rock has consistently fallen below contractual levels. This understaffing has led to numerous high-profile fights, brawls, and
162	 Memorandum from Kay Walter to Garland Armstrong, September 7, 2007 (indicating that the monitor made one visit
in March 2007 and did not return until August 2007). The contract monitor reports that she also made monthly visits
from April 2001 to October 2005.
163	 The ACLU of Alaska has received memoranda describing monitor visits from January of 2008 to January of 2009.

40

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

stabbings far above the level and frequency of such violent incidents seen in other Alaska
institutions. Since the Red Rock facility opened, the staffing has regularly left 20-30 security positions unfilled. Between June and December of 2006, Department staffing reports
indicate that CCA had filled on average 81 of 113 open staff positions during the opening
of the facility,164 with 32 vacant security positions, an average of 71% of positions filled.165
Even after the initial fluctuation associated with the opening of a new facility, CCA still had
28.5 vacancies in its 2007 security staff.166 In the spring of 2008, CCA had left 23 security
positions unfilled.167 The facility management may have instituted some use of overtime
to accommodate the low numbers employed by the facility (an expense incurred by CCA);
however, the amount of overtime accounted for roughly one employee’s hours, not the 30
or so security positions that remained unfilled.168
At the time of the ACLU of Alaska visit in February of 2009, the staffing shortages were
apparent. In one housing unit, at the time of the visit, only two corrections officers were
on duty supervising all six housing pods, which housed 358 prisoners. Three corrections
officers are assigned to supervise an ordinary housing unit during the day, with only two
officers working at night. According to the applicable employment contract, five security
officers ought to be on duty during daytime hours in each ordinary housing unit, with ei-

164	 Although the facility was still filling up in 2006, the number of required security positions increased proportionally
with the prison population. The average population of the facility from June 2006 to December 2006 was 550. Alaska
Department of Corrections, Institutional Monthly Report, June-December 2006. The number of allocated security positions during that same period was 113. Id. By the time the facility was full in 2007, the Red Rock population was 938
and the total number of allocated security positions was 184. Alaska Department of Corrections, Institutional Monthly
Report, January-October 2007. The percent increase of required staff in that time was 62%; during that same period
the prison population increased by 70%.
165	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Institutional Monthly Report, June-December 2006. During the same period, most
Alaska institutions were staffed to at least a 90% level. Id. The 90% staffing level is also – at least nominally – the official goal of CCA. One criterion in the periodic audit of the facility was that the Human Resources manager maintains
a roster of employees showing a vacancy rate of no more than 10%. Office of General Counsel, Corrections Corporation
of America, Audit Final Report: Red Rock Correctional Center, September 27, 2007, at 4. The internal auditor rated the
result of that criterion as “NI[Needs improvement].” Id.
166	 Memorandum from Kay Walter to Garland Armstrong, October 4, 2007. The memorandum indicates that the tracking of
statistics left it unclear which positions were required under the contract and whether all of them were for the Alaska
contract. See also Alaska Department of Corrections, Institutional Monthly Report, January-October 2007 (showing
that Red Rock had an average of 33 positions unfilled during the report period).
167	 Memorandum from Kay Walter to Garland Armstrong, March 10, 2008.
168	 From June 2006 to December 2006, Red Rock paid out 864 hours of overtime to security staff, or less than the hours of
one full time position. Alaska Department of Corrections, Institutional Monthly Report, June-December 2006. Filling
just one full-time position in that period entirely by overtime would require 1,040 hours (26 weeks x 40 hours/week).
Somewhat more overtime was paid out from January 2007 to October 2007: 1,825 hours, only slightly more than enough
to account for one position, not the average of 33 positions that remained unfilled. Alaska Department of Corrections,
Institutional Monthly Report, January-October 2007. Filling one position for the 10 months from January to October
would have required 1,760 hours of work (44 weeks x 40 hours per week).

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ther four or five on duty at night.169 All in all, the statistics and criteria for tracking vacancies are somewhat opaque. Untangling the individual meaning of any one staffing statistic
is challenging. Based on the consistency of reports from late 2006 to early 2008 of 20-30
vacancies at Red Rock, the ACLU of Alaska feels the consistency of these reports bear out
the concerns of understaffing.

In one housing unit, at
Understaffing the facility not only violates the terms of
the contract and deprives the Department of Corrections
the time of the visit,
and taxpayers of the services for which they have paid,
only two corrections
but it also puts prisoners at risk of being assaulted. In
a housing unit supervised by only two officers, the offiofficers were on duty
cers on duty cannot respond safely or effectively to any
supervising all six
kind of assault. One officer must always remain behind
in the control unit or “bubble,” where officers operate the
housing pods, which
controls for the gates to the housing unit itself and to the
housed 358 prisoners.
individual housing pods. When two officers are on duty
and one must remain in the control unit, the lone guard
on the floor cannot safely respond to a fight among prisoners.170 The contract monitor hired by the Department of
Corrections, an experienced former prison warden, considered this practice and informed
the Director of Institutions: “Working with only one staff on the floor [and one in the control
room] with 360 prisoners is unsafe.”171
A potential explanation for understaffing might be a lack of applicants; however, the Red
Rock facility was not accepting applications during the time of the ACLU of Alaska visit.
While present at the institution in February of 2009, an ACLU of Alaska representative
twice observed young men walking into the facility seeking work as a correctional officer,
yet both were told that Red Rock was not hiring any corrections officers at that time. The
problem of understaffing is not unique to Red Rock, but is one observed by the federal

169	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Contract # 205486, Appendix F (indicating that housing units G and L should be
staffed by five officers on all three shifts, while housing unit F and J should be staffed by five officers during shift 1 and
shift 2, but by four during the third, overnight shift). The contract monitor indicates that one of the two officer positions
in the control unit goes unfilled, since a second control officer was deemed not needed at the new facility. Another position – the senior correctional officer position – was reportedly turned into a correctional counselor position, with joint
security and administrative roles. None of the records reviewed by the ACLU of Alaska indicate that these changes were
properly accounted for in an amendment to the contract or even acknowledged in written form by the Department.
170	 Staffing a housing unit with only two officers should happen only overnight according to the staffing plan adopted by
Red Rock. The risks of this staffing overnight are somewhat lessened because prisoners are locked down in their cells.
However, a guard could still not safely respond to a cellmate-on-cellmate fight by himself. Further, personal observation on one visit showed that one unit was staffed with only two uniformed security officers during the day, raising
concerns about how well the staffing plan is observed.
171	 Memorandum from Kay Walter to Garland Armstrong, March 10, 2008.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

Bureau of Prisons in surveys of other CCA facilities.172 The persistence of the practice in
CCA facilities and the availability of willing applicants leave no obvious explanation, other
than a profit motive. The state of Alaska has paid an agreed-upon price to have its prisoners kept safe in a fully-staffed prison, yet the Corrections Corporation of America has
failed to keep its institution staffed consistent with its contractual obligation, apparently in
order to increase its own profit margin. A real concern for state governments who transfer
prisoners out of state to private facilities is that these facilities will seek to increase profits
by cutting personnel and other costs. While a superintendent of a public facility can simply
be ordered to comply with Department regulations or be replaced, the government has far
less control over a sub-contractor. Only diligent investigation and enforcement can prevent
cutting corners in contract facilities. In April 2008, the longstanding staffing shortage was
formalized into a new staffing standard, which cut six security positions from each housing unit, with the apparent concession of the Department of Corrections.173 The contract
was originally drafted to staff the Florence Correctional Center. When the shift was announced to a new facility in 2006, a little more than a year into the contract, enforcement
of the terms of the contract became challenging. New terms for staffing the new facility
were not made explicitly in writing. As such, deciphering what positions went unfilled during what time presents a particular challenge. The Department seems to have entered
into an unwritten understanding about reduced staffing for the Red Rock facility without a
corresponding reduction in costs. Subsequent monitoring and staffing figures may reflect
different standards than those originally drawn up for the Florence Correctional Center;
tabulating the exact amount of understaffing is a challenge. However, it is clear that the
Red Rock facility remained staffed below the level originally stipulated in the contract and,
as a result, the Department of Corrections has paid substantial sums for the salaries of
prisoner guard positions that were never filled.174 With the enforcement of the original
contract having become complicated by the transfer of prisoners to the new facility, the
Department ultimately settled its claims against CCA for more than $400,000; the reduced
staffing plan remained in place.
172	 Lappin et al., Federal Bureau of Prisons, “Evaluation of the Taft Demonstration Project: Performance of a PrivateSector Prison and the BOP,” at 9 (indicating complaints of understaffing and excessive prisoner assaults at a CCA
facility in North Carolina); id. at 33 (indicating that at a South Carolina CCA facility anywhere from between 14 and 59
positions went unfilled).
173	 “I also confirmed with the Chief the mandatory security posts to be 36 staff on days, 34 on swings and 19 on nights. Per
the Chief the mandatory number in each living unit is 1 in control and 2 on the floor for days and swings, 1 in control and
1 on the floor for nights. This is the number I will begin auditing against.” Memorandum from Kay Walter to Garland
Armstrong, April 29, 2008. See also Alaska Department of Corrections, Contract # 205486, Appendix F (indicating that
housing units G and L should be staffed by five officers on all three shifts, while housing unit F and J should be staffed
by five officers during shift 1 and shift 2, but by four during the third, overnight shift). The Department indicates that
since the original contract was drawn up for Florence Correctional Center, and the control room for each unit at Red
Rock is smaller than the control rooms at Florence, the original contract’s requirement of two control officers was unnecessary, allowing CCA to cut one control officer from the budget. Even allowing for the removal of one control officer,
the units should still be staffed with four officers during the day and on swing shifts, with at least three at night.
174	 During the 2007 year, after the transition to new facility, Department records indicate that the Red Rock facility remained understaffed by, on average, 33 security positions from January to October of 2007. Alaska Department of
Corrections, Institutional Monthly Report, January-October 2007. The base salary for a corrections officer was $27, 771
per year. Alaska Department of Corrections, Contract # 205486, Appendix G. The salary of 33 entry-level correctional
officer positions for the year 2007 would have been $916,000 in total.

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This level of staffing is an invitation to large-scale prisoner-on-prisoner violence. Even if
the staffing levels at Red Rock had filled the contractual requirements, it would still have
fallen far short of national norms: the contract itself indicates that the proposed ratio of
prisoners to correctional staff was 8.7 to 1, while the national average was reported in the
contract as 5.5 to 1.175 In reality, the ratio of prisoners to correctional staff is 12.7 to 1.176
Not surprisingly, the incidence of assaults has been substantial at Red Rock Correctional
Center. Between January and October of 2007, Red Rock reported 38 prisoner-on-prisoner
assaults.177 During that same period, all Alaska prisons reported 43 prisoner-on-prisoner
assaults, even though the Alaska prisons held more than three times as many prisoners
as Red Rock.178 In January of 2009, a brawl among seven prisoners landed two prisoners
in the hospital with serious injuries.179 In 2007, a sergeant in the control unit attempted to
open doors in an area holding Alaska prisoners and accidentally opened all cell doors in
the Hawaiian protective custody unit, and a Hawaiian prisoner was stabbed in the ensuing
fight.180 After the 2007 incident, investigation following the outcry from inmates revealed
that the doors in other units, some holding Hawaiian and some holding Alaska prisoners,
had been inappropriately opened on four occasions.181
The problems within the control units remained at the time of the ACLU of Alaska visit in
2009. At that time, however, sluggish action in the central control unit caused the problems, though it was unclear if understaffing in the control room was the problem. At one
point, travel from the point of entry to the main yard at Red Rock took about ten minutes
to walk a hundred yards through four gates. At each gate, staff and visitors queued up
for several minutes. At points, five or six employees waited on either side of a gate. The
slow response in opening gates could pose a serious safety threat at an institution where
housing units are understaffed.182 If the circumstances described above represent a trend,
then the difficulties in promptly and appropriately opening and closing gates could pose
175	 Department of Corrections, Contract # 205486, Appendix F, at 100 (indicating that the projected ratio of correctional
staff for the facility was 8.7 to 1, and the national average was 5.5 to 1). The national average security staff to prisoner
ratio has risen in recent years to 8.98 prisoners to correctional staff.
176	 The contractual statistic assumed 92 correctional staff and 800 prisoners, for a ratio of 1:8.7. The count of Alaska prisoners at Red Rock Correctional Center was 879 in December 2008. Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender
Profile. At the time the staffing vacancies were last calculated relative to the original contract, Red Rock had 23 security positions unfilled, leaving only 69 security staff supervising 879 prisoners, for a ratio of 12.7 prisoners to every
corrections staff member. Memorandum from Kay Walter to Garland Armstrong, April 29, 2008.
177	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Institutional Monthly Report, January 2007 to October 2007.
178	 Id.
179	 “Two Alaska Inmates Injured in Prison Brawl”, Juneau Empire, Jan. 12, 2009.
180	 Dayton, Kevin, “Arizona Prison Mistakes Trouble Hawaii Officials,” Honolulu Advertiser, July 22, 2007.
181	 Id.
182	 To illustrate the hazards of delaying response times, one major failure in responding to a riot at a CCA prison was the
delayed response of staff to a prisoner demonstration and the delayed arrival of a security team. Colorado Department
of Corrections, After Action Report, Inmate Riot, Crowley County Correctional Facility: July 20, 2004, available at http://
www.afscme.org/docs/col1004.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

a security threat. Two officers cannot safely respond to a fight in a housing unit, which
means that other officers must come in to reinforce the guards in that unit. However, if
the responding officers cannot be allowed through the gates separating one portion of
the facility from another in a timely manner, fights are more likely to spiral out of control.
Further, an already-understaffed facility cannot expect reinforcements from other units
that are similarly understaffed. While no prison can expect the elimination of fights among
prisoners, the staffing patterns at Red Rock allows a constant stream of prisoner-onprisoner violence and risks the outbreak of larger-scale brawls or even riots.183

While conditions improved
somewhat towards the
end of the contract as
monitoring became more
regular, the use of contract
facilities should be a
stopgap to cope with prison
overcrowding, not a regular
means of holding hundreds
of Alaskans far from home.

The opportunity to start a new contract with a new
provider will hopefully provide better care for prisoners than the CCA contract did. The overall experience
with the CCA contract showed poor performance
and left Alaska prisoners without sufficient protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence. Private
prisons pose special difficulties for monitoring and
enforcement of contractual terms. While conditions
improved somewhat towards the end of the contract as monitoring became more regular, the use of
contract facilities should be a stopgap to cope with
prison overcrowding, not a regular means of holding
hundreds of Alaskans far from home.

Alaska must change the way its whole criminal justice system works to end our practice of housing
prisoners in private facilities. The Goose Creek facility being constructed will hold about 1,500 prisoners;
taking back the prisoners held out-of-state will take
up half the capacity of the facility. Emptying gymnasiums around the state and returning
facility levels to their original 2002 capacities would likely consume another 400 or more
beds. No one can say for certain what the growth in the prison population will be over the
next three years, but, without a serious attempt to control the rate of admission to the
prison system, the state prison population could conceivably grow by 300 or 400 to fill the
remaining space by the time the facility opens.

183	 A riot broke out at a CCA-run prison housing Colorado and other out-of-state prisoners during a state of comparable
understaffing. Colorado Department of Corrections, After Action Report, Inmate Riot, Crowley County Correctional
Facility: July 20, 2004, at 16, available at http://www.afscme.org/docs/col1004.pdf. At the time of the 2004 riot, 33 security officers were supervising 1,122 prisoners. Id. at 17. At time of the riot, individual and undermanned unit officers
were unable to defend the housing units and retreated. Id. at 19. The riot resulted in serious injury to 19 prisoners. Id.
at 56. At 7 P.M., the hour when the Crowley County riot took place, Red Rock had only 34 guards on duty supervising
between 1,200 and 1,500 prisoners. Memorandum from Kay Walter to Garland Armstrong, April 29, 2008 (indicating
that the swing shift – late afternoon and evening – would require only 34 on-duty security officers).

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C. Medical Care in the Alaska Prison System
Medical care is always difficult to assess on a system-wide basis; assessing the effectiveness of a prison medical system is even more challenging. Unfortunately, a lack of
systematic data tracking makes strong statements about the effectiveness of the system
as a whole almost impossible. Prisoner accounts suggest that the challenges of a dozen
geographically dispersed facilities have left the quality of care uneven, even leaving some
prisoners vulnerable to abuse in isolated circumstances. The total picture of the health
care system suggests that further study and improved accountability is needed. An increase in staffing and a redirection of the system towards a public health model could
improve health care while managing costs for the Department.

i. Legal Standards for Prison Medical Care
1. International Standards
International human rights law outlines strong protection for prisoners in regards to accessing quality medical care and promotes the responsibility of the State in providing
medical services to prisoners. The ACLU of Alaska believes that international law provides a standard to which American facilities should aspire, although we recognize that
the costs and difficulties associated with these standards are substantial. Under international law, the rights of prisoners to health care are not diluted by their incarceration.
International standards state that prisoners shall have access to health services available
in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation.184 Prisons
must also ensure that treatment is offered free of charge.185 Recognizing that prisoners
are wholly dependent upon prison medical officers and custodial staff to provide adequate
care, international guidelines emphasize the duty of medical officers to provide prisoners
in their care with the same quality and standard of treatment given to patients who are not
imprisoned: a standard also guaranteed in the Alaska Department of Corrections Policies
and Procedures.186 Indeed, international instruments set out a high yet clear standard
for the duties of a medical officer to an incarcerated patient: “The medical officer shall
have the care of the physical and mental health of the prisoners and should daily see all
184	 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Art. 12.1 (recognizing the right of everyone to the
enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health); United Nations, Body of Principles for
the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, adopted by the General Assembly in its
Resolution 43/173, of 9 December 1988, Principle 9. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 40.3.
185	 United Nations, Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, adopted
by the General Assembly in its Resolution 43/173, of 9 December 1988, Principle 24.
186	 Principles of Medical Ethics relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, particularly Physicians, in the Protection of
Prisoners and Detainees against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Principle
1; Alaska Department of Corrections, Access to Medical Care, Policy 807.02(VI)(A) (“The Department shall ensure that
sentenced and unsentenced prisoners shall have access to medical, dental, and mental health care services comparable in quality to those available to the general public.”) (emphasis added) available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/
corrections/pnp/pdf/807.02.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

sick prisoners, all who complain of illness, and any prisoner to whom his attention is specially
directed.”187
In order to provide constant and consistent care, prisons must ensure that they have sufficient medical officers on staff and available to provide daily services. In large institutions, at least one full-time medical officer should reside on the premises of the institution
or in its immediate vicinity.188 In other institutions, the medical officer should visit daily
and should reside near enough to be able to attend without delay in cases of urgency.189
Where a prison service has its own hospital facilities, it should be adequately staffed and
equipped to provide the prisoners referred to them with appropriate care and treatment.190
International standards require that each prisoner be allowed to make requests or complaints to the institution regarding medical care on each week day.191 These requests or
complaints should be promptly handled, without undue delay, unless the complaints are
evidently frivolous or groundless.192 The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated
that the State must allow and facilitate – though not necessarily pay for - the examination of prisoners by a physician of their choice or chosen by their legal representative.193
Similarly, European standards provide that prisoners have the right to request or petition
a judicial or other authority for a second medical examination or opinion, subject only to
reasonable conditions to ensure security and good order.194
The denial or failure to provide adequate medical assistance has been found to violate human
rights law. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has recognized the duty of
the State to provide detainees with regular medical examinations, assistance, and adequate
treatment whenever required.195 According to the IACHR, the lack of adequate medical as187	 Id., Art. 25.1 (emphasis added).
188	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and
Social Council by its resolutions 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, Rule 8, Art. 52.1. See also
European Prison Rules, Art. 41.1 (stating that “every prison shall have the services of at least one qualified general
medical practitioner.”).
189	 Id., Art, 52.2. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 41.2-41.3 (stating that “arrangements shall be made to ensure at
all times that a qualified medical practitioner is available without delay in cases of urgency” and “where prisons do not
have a full-time medical practitioner, a part-time medical practitioner shall visit regularly”).
190	 Id., Art. 22.2. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 46.2.
191	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Art. 36.1
192	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Art. 36.4.
193	 See, e.g., Tibi v. Ecuador, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, para. 154 (Sept. 2004).
194	 Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons, Art. 25.
195	 Garcia-Asto and Ramirez-Rojas v. Peru, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, para. 225-27 (Nov. 2005) (finding that
the lack of adequate medical assistance in the case did not meet the minimum material requirements for humane
treatment under Article 5 of the American Convention). See also Principle for the Protection of All Persons Submitted
to Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, Principle 24 (“[A]ny person detained . . . will be provided . . . medical care
and treatment whenever necessary.”)

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sistance can be a direct violation of the right to have physical, mental, and moral integrity
respected, and may also constitute a direct violation of the right to be free from torture or
from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment. 196 As the guarantor of prisoner
rights, the State has the affirmative duty to offer prisoners the medical attention required.197
Other regional and international bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights,
the African Commission, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
have also found that lack of adequate medical treatment may amount to cruel treatment.198
Medical officers’ responsibility towards prisoners in their care begins at intake and continues throughout a prisoner’s time in custody.199 Medical personnel have an affirmative
duty to report conditions that are injurious to the prisoner’s physical or mental health.200
The medical officer should regularly inspect and advise the superintendent on: the quantity, quality, preparation and service of food; the hygiene and cleanliness of the institution
as well as prisoner hygiene needs; the sanitation, heating, lighting and ventilation of the
institution; the suitability and cleanliness of the prisoners’ clothing and bedding; and the
observance of rules concerning physical education and sports, in cases where there are
no technical personnel in charge of these activities.201

196	 Case of Montero Aranguren et al. (Detention Center of Catia), Inter-American Court of Human Rights, para. 103 (2006)
(finding that lack of adequate medical assistance could be considered per se a violation of Articles 5(1) and 5(2) of the
American Convention, depending on the specific circumstances of the person, the type of ailment, the time spent without medical attention and its cumulative effects).
197	 See, e.g., Miguel Castro-Castro Prison v. Peru, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, para. 295, 302 (Nov. 2006) (finding that the State violated its duty by not providing adequate care to injured prisoners).
198	 See, e.g., Kudla v. Poland, No. 30210/96, para 93-94, ECHR 2000-XI (stating that, “under [Article 3 of the Convention],
the State must ensure that . . . , given the practical demands of imprisonment, his health and well-being are adequately
secured by, among other things, providing him with the requisite medical assistance”); Odafe and Others v AttorneyGeneral and Others, African Commission, para. 2-3 (2004) AHRLR 205 (NgHC 2004) (declaring that prisoners with HIV/
AIDS had a right to medical treatment and that the failure to provide them with such treatment amounted to inhuman
and degrading treatment in violation of Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights); Prosecutor v.
Limaj et al. (Trial Judgment). IT-03-66-T. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). 30 November
2005. Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/48ac17cc2.html (finding that the lack
of provision of medical treatment, in addition to other inhumane treatment, amounted to cruel treatment).
199	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 24 (stating that a medical officer should see and examine every prisoner as soon as
possible after his admission and thereafter as necessary, with a view particularly to the discovery of physical or mental
illness and the taking of all necessary measures; the segregation of prisoners suspected of infectious or contagious
conditions; the noting of physical or mental defects which might hamper rehabilitation, and the determination of the
physical capacity of every prisoner for work); see also European Prison Rules, Arts. 40.4 and 42.1.
200	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 25.2. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 43.3 (“The medical practitioner shall report
to the director whenever it is considered that a prisoner’s physical or mental health is being put seriously at risk by
continued imprisonment or by any condition of imprisonment, including conditions of solitary confinement.”).
201	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 26.1. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 44. According to Article 26.2, the director
must take into consideration the medical officer’s reports and advice, either taking immediate steps to give effect to
the recommendations or submitting his own report and the advice of the medical officer to a higher authority. See also
European Prison Rules, Art. 45. It should be noted that many of these roles will be filled in an ordinary American facility by non-medical personnel. Health and regulatory-compliance inspections will be done by trained inspectors, not
physicians. In Alaska, many of these roles are filled by the “technical personnel” described in the rule, not physicians.
The state of Alaska employs a dietician, for instance, to ensure that meals adequately meet the nutritional needs of
prisoners.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

International standards provide many guidelines and rules of practice for medical staff
operating in prisons, in order to secure the protection of prisoners’ physical and mental
health. The conditions in the Alaska prison system and the pattern of complaints from
prisoners raise concerns that should be addressed by systematic improvement in resources devoted to prisoner health care and reform of the prison medical system.

2. Domestic Standards
The Eighth Amendment prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment” includes protection of prisoners from “deliberate indifference” on the part of prison administrators and
health care providers to “serious medical needs.”202 This standard does not make prisons
liable for basic medical negligence or call into question legitimate medical judgment;203
instead, only objectively unreasonable medical treatment, such as refusal of care, lack of
adequate medical staffing, unreasonably delayed care, or care that is objectively unreasonable constitutes a violation of the prisoner’s rights.204

ii. The Alaska Prison Medical System
1. The Structure of the System
Gauging the extent of any problems with delivery of medical care in the prisons is a challenging task. First, the whole health care system in America has its own unique problems,
even outside the correctional system. Most people could recount stories of 15-minute
medical visits and providers who didn’t answer all the patient’s questions. Medical malpractice occurs in private settings as well. What makes prison medical care different is
that, by taking a prisoner into custody, the state takes on full responsibility for the prisoner’s care. The prisoner is not at liberty to go and get medical care of his choosing, look
up information on his condition, or seek a second opinion.205 The state needs to provide
health care of sufficient quality to overcome the natural consequences of incarceration.
In trying to understand the health care system in prison, one cannot rely exclusively on
prisoner accounts, as prisoners may have misunderstood or misstated what medical
202	 Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05.
203	 See, e.g., Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996) (noting that a physician who chooses one treatment
among several “medically acceptable” alternatives is not liable and that the prisoner must show that the treatment
was “medically unacceptable” in order to succeed).
204	 See, e.g., Johnson v. Karnes, 398 F.3d 868, 876 (6th Cir. 2005) (finding failure to provide follow up treatment from surgery
constituted deliberate indifference to the prisoner’s medical needs).
205	 The Department authorizes the provision of care by outside specialists; however, except in cases of emergency, approval of the medical director is needed. Provision of outside specialist care is always discretionary. Alaska Department
of Corrections, Access to Health Care Services, Policy 807.02, available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/
pnp/pdf/807.02.pdf.

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treatment is realistic or appropriate for their health. On the other hand, using medical
records to illustrate the quality of medical care would be exceptionally difficult; to obtain
medical records for enough prisoners to create a full picture of the state of medical care in
Alaska’s prison system would be an expensive and time-consuming process. A better way
to look at the medical system in Alaska’s prison system is to identify the potential areas of
concern and to see whether prisoner complaints match up against those areas of concern.
To identify these areas of concern, one must first understand the nature of the Department
of Corrections’ medical service. Each facility is different, in size, in medical needs, and in
location. Large facilities in Southcentral Alaska, like the Anchorage Complex or Hiland
Mountain, have a large medical staff on duty most or all of the day and receive at least
weekly visits from one of the Department’s two physicians. Anchorage Jail has an infirmary unit providing 24-hour care to the sickest prisoners. Mid-size facilities outside Southcentral Alaska – such
[B]y taking a prisoner
as Lemon Creek in Juneau or the Fairbanks Correctional
Center – have fewer than ten providers on staff and reinto custody, the
ceive services from contract physicians in the community.
state takes on full
Facilities in small towns – such as in Bethel, Nome, or
Ketchikan – have two or three providers, with part-time
responsibility for the
medical coverage supplemented by telemedicine and the
prisoner’s care. The
availability of care from local hospitals.

prisoner is not at liberty

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care
to go and get medical
(NCCHC) indicates that the general rule for staffing facilities is to have at least one physician on the grounds
care of his choosing,
of the facility for 3.5 hours per week per 100 prisoners.206
look up information on
The NCCHC rules do permit that a mid-level practitioner, such as a nurse-practitioner or a physician assistant
his condition, or seek a
can substitute for some, but not all, of a physician’s time.
second opinion.
The American Public Health Association recommends
that one full-time physician be provided for every 200 to
750 prisoners.207 Yet some individual facilities have infrequent physician visits. At Wildwood Correctional Complex in Kenai, a physician visits only
once a month to treat a prison population of 350 or more and to manage a medical staff
of 5 nurses, with a nurse practitioner visiting twice a week. At Anvil Mountain in Nome,
the Department employs a part-time physician assistant and two registered nurses. The
206	 National Commission on Correctional Health Care, 2008 Standards for Health Services in Jails (2008), JC-07 at 42.
The Department of Corrections notes that it is not NCCHC-certified, but complies with appropriate Alaska statutes
and administrative code provisions. However, the Alaska statutes provide little substantive guidance, only that the
Commissioner of Corrections “shall provide necessary medical care . . . including examinations for communicable
and infectious diseases.” AS 33.30.011. The Administrative Code similarly states only that the Commissioner shall
provide “adequate medical services. . .” and that prisoners with medical needs shall receive “needed treatment.” 22
AAC 05.120. By contrast, the NCCHC’s guidelines are developed by health professionals, reviewing recent studies in the
field, and provide detailed guidance in numerous specific areas of prison health care.
207	 American Public Health Association, Standards for Health Services in Correctional Institutions (2003), at 17.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

institution receives only one visit every three months from a Department physician. YukonKuskokwim also relies on a physician assistant or nurse practitioner to provide higher
level care, and the physicians do not have regularly scheduled visits. In these places, the
facilities depend instead on the emergency departments at local hospitals or on a 24/7
on-call telemedicine consult with a Department physician.

2. The Intake System
The duties of the health care providers within the Department of Corrections include providing routine medical care to prisoners in response to their requests for medical assistance, as well as providing screenings at intake or when a prisoner is transferred to a new
institution. Just keeping up with the initial screening process represents a huge challenge.
Every prisoner should have an initial screening by a health care provider within 24 hours
of admission. The constant stream of arrests brings 33,000 detainees into the corrections
system each year.208 Even a peremptory 20-minute screening for each detainee would require 11,000 hours of work each year (more than 5 full-time positions) just to keep up with
the steady intake.
At facilities serving primarily as pretrial detention facilities, the impact of the intake traffic is particularly acute. At the Anchorage Complex, 17,000 detainees are admitted every year.209 The Anchorage Jail maintains 24-hour coverage of the booking unit, where a
nurse is available at all hours to conduct admissions. In each 12 hour shift, the Anchorage
Complex admits, on average, more than 22 prisoners; one must also remember that individual shifts will have more admissions than others (such as weekends, holidays, night
shifts, etc.).210 Other pretrial institutions with small staffs but large numbers of prisoners
admitted in a year lack the personnel to dedicate one person exclusively to admissions.
Anvil Mountain in Nome has only two staff members serving the facility from 11 A.M. to
11 P.M., yet it admits 1,600 prisoners a year.211 Mat-Su Pretrial has two staff members,
plus a mid-level provider shared with two other facilities in the Mat-Su Valley; the facility
admits about 3,700 prisoners a year.212 At some point, screening 1,500 prisoners in a year
must tax the ability of even the most dedicated professional to attend to each individual
carefully. In times of sudden spikes in intake, the provider will also likely feel pressure
to complete the screenings quickly as the backlog of prisoners increases. Providing an
effective initial intake is essential to treating prisoners’ initial medical needs, removing
contagious inmates from the general population, ensuring that newly-admitted prisoners
receive needed medication, and targeting prisoners for follow-up and treatment. When
208	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile, at 8.
209	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at A-2.
210	 17,000 annual admissions divided by 365 days divided by three eight-hour shifts per day.
211	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at A-8.
212	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at A-28.

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facilities do not receive enough resources to screen this population, one possible result
might be that prisoners would be identified with some illnesses not at admission but in
follow up visits and that prisoners would complain about not receiving medications on
admission and not receiving appropriate follow-up care.213

3. Prisoner Requests for Medical Care and Complaint Procedures
Responding to prisoner requests for treatment is another important role for medical staff.
The typical procedure for prisoners requesting medical care begins with filing a “request
for interview” form, commonly known in prisons as a “cop-out.” This request should be
promptly reviewed by medical staff, and security staff should arrange the transport of the
prisoner to the in-house medical examination room. Usually, registered nurses or physician assistants review these initial requests and see the prisoner when the prisoner is
brought down for examination.
The prisoners whom the medical staff will see in the prison system present their own challenges. Most prisoners have a substance abuse problem with at least one substance,214
and thus impose the greater health care challenges and costs associated with heavy alcohol and drug use. Most prisoners come from a poor background and may have had
infrequent medical care in the past. Some prisoners have physical disabilities. About 40%
of prisoners have a mental illness or mental disability of one kind or another.215 Some prisoners coming to seek medical care will surely be drug seekers; some will come simply to
complain; others will have imaginary ailments fed by isolation or mental illness. Coping
with a needy and difficult population of prisoners could quickly leave any provider jaded
and cynical. In this atmosphere, one would fear that some providers would too quickly
label a prisoner a “malingerer” or a “drug seeker” or a “troublemaker” and dismiss their
ailments without providing the necessary treatment.216

213	 In point of fact, almost half of all prisoners interviewed did complain about delayed or denied treatment. We recognize
that some of the prisoners may be misguided or may be prone to complain. While the complaints do not prove the
existence of a lack of prompt or quality medical care, the complaints raise a concern and merit further investigation.
214	 North Charles Research and Planning Group, Substance Abuse Treatment Needs of Alaska’s Newly Incarcerated
Prisoner Population Prior to Incarceration: Final Report (2001), at viii (stating that, according to a survey of Alaska
prisoners, 79% of prisoners had a substance abuse problem within 12 months of admission to the prison system). As
an example of the prevalence of substance abuse related illness, one study of Maryland prisoners found that 38% of
the cohort entered prison with antibodies to Hepatitis C. Vlahov, D. et al., Prevalence and Incidence of Hepatitis C Virus
Infection among Male Prison Inmates in Maryland, 9 European Journal of Epidemiology 566 (Sept. 1993).
215	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at ii (showing
that 42% of all prisoners were beneficiaries of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, which primarily treats individuals with
mental illnesses).
216	 A major prison and jail manual identifies as a primary pitfall in prison health care the “chronic substance abusers,
often labeled as malingerers [who] . . . can go downhill suddenly.” Clark, John, Providing Correctional Health Care
Services, in Prison and Jail Administration: Practice and Theory, at 106. “Malingering is always a diagnosis of exclusion, and
the diagnosis is only made after legitimate psychopathology is ruled out.” Johnson, Sally C., Mental Health Services in a
Correctional Setting, in Prison and Jail Administration: Practice and Theory, at 115.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

Simply put, no health care system – in or out of the
correctional system – will ever have a system whereAbout 40% of prisoners have
in every patient-provider interaction is monitored to
a mental illness or mental
prevent the provider from ignoring or failing to document a patient complaint. Yet the concern that a prodisability of one kind or
vider will ignore or fail to treat a patient-prisoner is
another.
more acute in the corrections context, because of the
burnout factor for providers.217 The consequences of
such failure can be even more dire in the prison context, since the prisoner will have no power to get a second opinion or see a new provider.
In most conventional medical systems, the primary means to ensure the efficacy of medical treatment is through an ongoing quality assurance system, wherein the supervising
physician reviews patient charts and the providers have an ongoing discussion about the
best way to treat individual patients. The NCCHC requires all facilities to participate in a
Continuous Quality Improvement Program.218 The NCCHC requires all facilities to conduct
at least two studies per year, and all facilities holding 500 or more prisoners to conduct
at least four studies per year.219 The American Public Health Association similarly advises
correctional facilities to maintain quality improvement services, collecting data systemically in internal audits.220 Identification of a problem should be followed by a study to determine strategies to address the problem.221 The Alaska Department of Corrections does
not track basic statistics about patient care, although a quality assurance nurse does pull
prisoner charts at random for review. The prison medical system discontinued an earlier
program tracking how many visits were made to prison providers, how many prisoners
get tested for tuberculosis, how many get admitted to medical segregation or the infirmary, and other basic information.222 One reason for the discontinuation of the monthly
statistical reporting may have been the difficulty of managing such information without an
electronic records system. Another reason – perhaps also related to the lack of an electronic records system – may have been the unreliability or intermittent reporting of data.223
Creating an electronic records system could facilitate the return of a more effective quality
217	 Magee, Catherine et al., Preventive Care for Women in Prison: A Qualitative Community Health Assessment of the
Papanicolaou Test and Follow-Up Treatment at a California State Women’s Prison, 95 Am. J. of Public Health 1712 (Oct.
2005) (indicating that understaffing was reported by prison health care providers as a major factor in developing burnout and in rushing care) available at http://www.ajph.org/cgi/reprint/95/10/1712.pdf.
218	 National Commission on Correctional Health Care, 2008 Standards for Health Services in Jails (2008), JA-05 at 10.
219	 Id.
220	 American Public Health Association, Standards for Health Services in Correctional Institutions (2003), at 17.
221	 Id.
222	 The latest report relayed to the ACLU of Alaska came from 2004. Alaska Department of Corrections, Health Care
Activity Report: Monthly Statistics (2004). It is not known when exactly the collection of data ended.
223	 For instance, the annual summary reports zero activity in all but seven categories for the east wing of the Anchorage
Complex for the calendar year of 2004 – including, for instance, no intake screenings, even though Anchorage Jail conducts more intake than any other facility in the state. Id. If providers omitted data because they found making written
reports too cumbersome, the data provided could be misleading.

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assurance system.
In the absence of a systematic, statistical quality assurance program, the primary means
of discovering and correcting medical errors comes in response to prisoners’ complaints.
The primary recourse of a prisoner who feels he receives insufficient care is to file an official complaint, a grievance. The grievance will then be investigated by the Institutional
Health Care Officer, usually whichever mid-level provider serves at the institution, who
will gather the medical records relating to the incident, review them, and issue a decision.224 A prisoner dissatisfied with the result of the review can appeal the decision to the
Medical Advisory Committee, who will review the medical records and the decision of the
Institutional Health Care Officer.225 The Medical Advisory Committee renders a final decision on the matter.226
The review process is one in which only Department staff participate and where only the
medical records are reviewed, with prisoners having no right to speak to the investigator
or to the Committee and sometimes without any new investigation being conducted beyond review of the chart. One potential concern about such a closed system is that the decisions made will rely excessively on the initial reports of the treating health care worker,
a method of investigation which will not help a prisoner who alleges that the health care
worker refused to examine him or to treat him in the first place or whose health care
worker reported incorrect information in the record. In the outside world, a person with
such a complaint could go to a different nearby provider and get seen there. Prisoners
have no capacity to seek an opinion from outside the correctional system or to go elsewhere for care, leaving the prisoner vulnerable to the malpractice of one or two providers.227 This supervision structure violates international standards guaranteeing prisoners
access to second opinions and effective complaint procedures.228
One route prisoners have to make complaints is through the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman is charged with the investigation of complaints against state agencies
and employees. The Office of the Ombudsman receives complaints and investigates complaints from prisoners, including complaints relating to health care.229 Since the Office of
the Ombudsman has a small staff and is tasked with investigating complaints about the
whole of the state government, prisoners cannot expect the Ombudsman to cope with

224	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Prisoner Grievances: Policy 808.03 (VII)(B), available at http://www.correct.state.
ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/808.03.pdf.
225	 Id.
226	 Id.
227	 The Department notes that some prisoners will see a contract physician, a Department physician, a specialist, and a
Department physician assistant or nurse practitioner.
228	 See e.g. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons, Art. 25
229	 Ombudsman, State of Alaska, Ombudsman Complaint A2006-0344 (detailing investigation of a prisoner’s complaint
regarding needed dentures) at http://ombud.alaska.gov/reports/dentures%20PR-0344.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

the hundreds of complaints every year relating to medical concerns.230 The Office of the
Ombudsman has conducted 21 investigations into the Department of Corrections since
1990, while more than 2,500 prisoners filed grievances last year.231 While the Ombudsman
is an important and legitimate state arm for investigation of claims of lack of medical
treatment or maltreatment for prisoners, the limited resources and broad docket of the
Ombudsman make the office an inadequate substitute for additional internal screening
processes.

4. Charging Prisoners for Medical Care
Another policy that gives rise to concern about prisoner health is the assignment of a
charge for prisoner health care. While international standards require that medical services should be provided free of charge, the system in Alaska charges inmates $4 per visit
and $8 to see a dentist. While the policies of the Department do note that medical care will
not be withheld if a prisoner has no money in his accounts,232 the ACLU of Alaska remains
concerned that prisoners with some limited funds will be dissuaded from seeking medical
care by the fee policy. Some inmates have explained that they stopped requesting medical
care because it is too expensive. Other prisoners complained that when they approached
medical staff for legitimate medical concerns, they were turned away with token care, such
as ibuprofen, and charged four dollars. Charging inmates for medical care violates the international standards outlined above,233 and is one form of discriminatory denial of care
because prisoners with little money are dissuaded from seeking medical care. Numerous
organizations, including the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, have opposed the imposition of co-pays on prisoners for the receipt of medical care.234
Even if the Department would like to leave a co-pay in place to prevent malingering or
230	 Medical grievances constituted 21.8% of all 2,593 initial grievances filed in 2008. Timothy Lyden, Alaska Department of
Corrections, 2008 Annual Grievance Report.
231	 Ombudsman, State of Alaska, Fully Investigated Complaints (showing 21 cases relating to the Department of
Corrections) at http://ombud.alaska.gov/invest-table.php. Ombudsman, State of Alaska, Table of Cases Closed by the
Ombudsman in 2008 (showing 2 investigations within the Department of Corrections closed in 2008 – one from 2007
relating to deprivation of psychiatric medications and one from 2007 relating to drug testing standards). Timothy Lyden,
Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Annual Grievance Report.
232	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Prisoner Responsibility for Health Care: Policy 807.07, available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/807.07.pdf.
233	 United Nations, Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, adopted
by the General Assembly in its Resolution 43/173, of 9 December 1988, Principle 24.
234	 National Commission on Correctional Health Care, Charging Inmates a Fee for Health Care Services, available at http://
www.ncchc.org/resources/statements/healthfees.html. While the NCCHC does not endorse the use of fees under any
circumstances, the NCCHC does provide guidance for those institutions that nevertheless choose to impose a fee. This
includes conducting studies to ascertain whether savings could be better made by making the health care system
more effective and efficient, and studies tracking the statistics of negative outcomes for prisoners to monitor whether
negative outcomes rise after implementing the costs. Id. (see guidelines #1, #2, and #10). The Department has not
conducted such studies. The requirement of a fee-for-service for prisoners has been written into the Alaska Statutes,
the Administrative Code, and the Policies and Procedures of the Department. Alaska Stat. 33.30.028; 22 Alaska Admin.
Code 05.121; Alaska Department of Corrections, Prisoner Responsibility for Health Care, Policy 807.07.

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abuse of the medical facility, a prisoner should at least have access to medical care twice
a month without requiring a co-pay. Prisoners with legitimate medical concerns should
not be dissuaded from seeking medical attention. Adding a fee to prison health care could
deter prisoners with legitimate health complaints from reporting serious conditions. In
the event that the condition is contagious, delay in reporting could endanger the health of
other prisoners, guards, and even the community as a whole.

iii. Areas of Complaint and Concern within the Medical System
Having discussed some systemic concerns about the delivery of care, the next question is
whether the prisoners’ complaints about medical care reflect the concerns raised about
the resources and structure of the health care system in the correctional system.
1. Quality of Care and Access to Treatment
Upon admission and after, almost half of all prisoners interviewed reported difficulties
seeing medical personnel.235 In light of the previously described heavy frequency of prisoner use of the medical system and the large volume of intake at some facilities staffed by
two or three nurses, the reports of denied or delayed care make some sense.
Prisoners also complained about the general quality of care. Specifically, 85% of prisoners
who had pre-existing conditions that antedated their admission to the prison system reported that the care received after admission to the prisons was inconsistent with the care
they had previously received in civilian facilities; many prisoners complained that their access to medications supplied on the outside was temporarily or permanently interrupted
on admission.236 The prisoners’ opinions of their care are not, in and of themselves, clearly
demonstrative of a problem. However, the frequency of the complaints among prisoners
interviewed about the quality of care should raise concerns. The reports that prisoners
widely report receiving diminished treatment from that received prior to incarceration and
report denial of their medication raises particular concerns. While the prisoners may not
be the best judges of the quality of their care, care received on the outside was presumably
set by a health care professional and was generally within the bounds of acceptable care.
235	 Of the 111 inmates we interviewed with current medical conditions, 58 (52%) reported having been denied medical care
or sick call. Ten more inmates without current medical concerns also reported having been denied medical care or
sick call for previous injuries or illnesses. Of inmates with existing medical conditions, 64 (58%) also reported having
experienced increased injury or illness as a result of delay of care. Ten more inmates not facing medical conditions at
the time of the interview also reported having experienced illness or injury as a result of delayed care. This means 74
(48% of all inmates interviewed) not only reported a delay in medical care, but also reported harm as a result of the
delay.
236	 Of the 155 inmates interviewed, 111 (72%) inmates reported that they were dealing with some illness or injury. Their
illnesses and injuries ranged from minor to very serious. Of the 111 inmates reporting medical conditions, 56 (50%)
had not been treated before prison, either because they had not yet had the condition or they were not yet diagnosed
with it. Of the 55 inmates who were receiving medical care before prison, only 8 (15%) reported that the medical care
they received was consistent with their prior care or treatment. Therefore, 47 (85%) inmates felt they were not receiving
treatment consistent with their prior treatment outside of prison.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

The judgment of the prior health care provider deserves at least as much credence as that
of the prison health care provider. Certainly, in individual cases, a difference in judgment
between two professionals does not indicate that one is providing substandard care. One
can easily imagine why the prison administration would require a change in medical treatment in some cases. For instance, the prison medical system is reluctant – relative to outside providers
– to give out opiate drugs to the prison population.
85% of prisoners who had

pre-existing conditions that
antedated their admission to
the prison system reported
that the care received after
admission to the prisons
was inconsistent with the
care they had previously
received in civilian facilities.

Even considering all of the legitimate reasons why
prescription drugs might be discontinued or a course
of treatment might be altered or suspended, finding 85% of prisoners who had received medical care
prior to admission to the prison system report that
their course of treatment changed raises concerns
and merits more investigation. An assessment that a
prisoner’s course of medical treatment has changed
is a much more reliable and objective benchmark
than whether the treatment is of good quality. Also
concerning is the number of prisoner who indicated
that their medications were suspended – even discounting the prisoners taken off narcotic medicines.

Several other common themes arose in prisoner complaints: denial of more than token
care to prisoners who were unsentenced or sentenced only to brief terms, even exceeding those terms set by Department guidelines; generally poor care for chronic conditions;
insufficient care of prisoners experiencing withdrawal from alcohol or narcotics; and a
treatment gap at the time of admission, such that prisoners were left untreated or marginally treated for the first several days or weeks of incarceration. These are problems difficult to substantiate without more investigation, requiring obtaining releases from dozens
of individual prisoners and the review of hundreds of pages of medical records. A major
dedication of resources for such a project could become a priority for future investigation
by the ACLU of Alaska. Unfortunately, such an undertaking was outside the scope of the
initial survey of the general prison system.
Considering the scope of the problem outlined by prisoner complaints, the enormous
volume of requests for medical attention237 handled by a limited medical staff, and the
difficulty supervising dozens of providers in a dozen cities and towns in Alaska, many
separated by hundreds of miles, the prisoner complaints raise serious concerns about
whether proper medical treatment is being provided.
237	 Before discontinuing statistical reporting, the Department of Corrections reported 174,000 patient visits in 2004. Alaska
Department of Corrections, Health Care Activity Report: Monthly Statistics (2004).

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2. Misuse of Medical Segregation
As an example of the difficulty of supervising prison medical staff in locations around
the state, numerous prisoners at Fairbanks Correctional Center and others who had previously been incarcerated there complained that the physician assistant there regularly
provided minimal treatment, then threatened prisoners who complained with placement
in medical segregation.238 Segregation generally is the higher-security “jail within a jail” in
every facility. Prisoners are held in punitive segregation as punishment for jail infractions,
locked down most of the day, with little property or materials in their cells. Prisoners
are held in administrative segregation for other reasons, such as for their own protection
when they are endangered by other prisoners or when they present a threat to security;
as in punitive segregation, administrative segregation still involves a loss of most privileges and lockdown conditions 23 hours a day, although prisoners retain their property.239
Medical segregation is a form of administrative segregation intended to isolate prisoners with contagious diseases or in need of special observation. Multiple prisoners complained that one physician assistant at the Fairbanks Correctional Center would respond
to serious medical complaints with perfunctory care: a token gesture, such as providing
ibuprofen to the inmate. If the prisoner complained further that the treatment offered was
inadequate, the physician assistant would reply that if the prisoner’s condition was so bad,
the prisoner could be placed in medical segregation for observation for an extended period of time. Inmates reported that the physician assistant would threaten to place them
in medical segregation for ailments for which medical segregation would be totally inappropriate and unnecessary: for example, in response to joint pain. This practice interferes
with a prisoner’s right under the international human rights guidelines already discussed
to report complaints concerning their medical care and to have those complaints handled
without undue delay. These complaints were made spontaneously by numerous inmates,
including inmates who had already left Fairbanks Correctional Center. No similar complaints were made about other providers at any other institution.
The account of abuse of power described above illustrates the concerns described earlier about the difficulty of supervising health care workers in small and geographically
dispersed facilities. Greater supervision should be put in place to prevent abuse and malpractice. Moreover, prisoners’ rights to medical treatment should be protected by a clear
238	 The Department indicates that no grievances have been filed against the physician assistant.
239	 Even where inmates are put in segregation for medical or administrative purposes, as a functional matter, they share
almost identical living conditions with inmates in punitive segregation. In segregation in many facilities, a prisoner is
locked in a cell for 22 or 23 hours a day, with one or two hours each day to shower, clean his cell, and go to the law
library. Segregation means no access to any of the prison programs, and limited access to family visits. Inmates in
segregation lose whatever employment they participate in within the facility, and most or all of the privileges they have
obtained. The only substantial distinction between conditions in administrative or medical segregation on one hand
and punitive segregation on the other is that the prisoner in medical or administrative segregation is allowed to keep
some of his property. Prisoners in punitive segregation are generally allowed only a few essential and constitutionallyprotected items, such as religious items. Property aside, segregation is punishment to most prisoners. Even some
prisoners who seriously fear assault by other inmates often take their chances in general population rather than turn
themselves in for protective custody in the segregation unit.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

Incarceration [© iStockphoto.com/Helene Vallee]

and efficient complaint procedure. The existing complaint practice in some facilities has
a chilling effect on inmates who want to seek medical attention but fear placement in
segregation.
This is not to say that medical segregation is never appropriate; international standards
allow for medical segregation in certain circumstances. Medical segregation can be very
useful in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, for example. However, few justifications exist for placing a prisoner with a non-communicable disease, or a prisoner
with a mental condition the officers do not understand, in medical segregation. Where
segregation is used as a punishment masquerading as medical treatment, the prison is in
direct violation of several of the international standards outlined above, including, in some
circumstances, the international prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment.
Some prisoner complaints of inadequate or inappropriate treatment may be incorrect or
unfair. The probability that all of the prisoner complaints are inaccurate is slender. While
many providers may be diligent and competent, no one can expect all of them to be diligent
and competent. Given the tens of thousands of prisoner admissions in a year and the hundreds of thousands of prisoner medical visits in a year, even a single health care worker
who does not do his or her job properly could negatively affect the health of hundreds of
prisoners.

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iv. Analysis and Suggestions for Reform
An excellent way to improve the treatment of prisoners would be to establish an electronic
medical record system to track the care given to prisoners and any negative medical outcomes for prisoners. Using a well-designed system could help flag individual institutions
or providers when particular complaints arise with unusual frequency, when care or medical visits are unusually delayed, or when inappropriate care is ordered. The system could
also help make particular systemic reforms easier to justify; by knowing exactly how many
prisoners are being treated for an ailment and how much staff time and Department money goes to treating that ailment, the Department would be better able to target the most
expensive and the most dangerous problems as most in need of a preventive solution.
A simple reform desperately needed in the prison system is the addition of diabetic meals
to the menus in the facilities. Inmates housed in multiple facilities complained that the
prison provided no diabetic meals, although prisoners at other facilities, including Spring
Creek, could get a diabetic meal. Diabetes is a common ailment across the nation. In
Alaska, 13% of the adult population either has diabetes or is in a pre-diabetic state, at
serious risk of developing diabetes.240 Diabetics require a low-sugar, low-starch diet to
prevent sudden spikes in their blood sugar. Unmanaged high blood sugar can result in
tissue and organ damage, sometimes requiring amputation of extremities or transplants
for failing organs. Nevertheless, some prison meals are filled with high-starch dishes including bread and potatoes. At most facilities, no alternatives are provided for diabetic
inmates, a policy in direct violation of the international standards that require prison food
to be healthy and adequate. Many prisoners reported that they skipped meals that were
inappropriate, supplemented their diets with food purchased with their own money, or
simply ate what was given to them, regardless of the consequences. Indigent prisoners –
who comprise a large proportion of the prison population – cannot afford to purchase food
through the prison commissary; their health is unavoidably compromised when prisons
fail to provide a medically appropriate diet. In denying prisoners a medically-appropriate
diet, the prison contributes to deterioration of prisoners’ health. Such a policy may lead
to additional costs where prisoners need further medical care or even surgery. The costs
of such a short-sighted policy will eventually be passed on to the taxpayer. The best treatment for diabetics, both in terms of economics and prisoner health, is prevention.
The two best ways to cut health care costs in the prisons are to reduce the prison populations and to prevent the need for medical intervention. In light of the apparent cost
pressures that prevent the dedication of more substantial resources to prisoner medical
care, one should note the “cost savings” in many of these cases is an illusion. The prisoners who go untreated in prison will ultimately need treatment and will simply receive the
treatment later, likely at greater expense and likely at community expense at a local emergency room. The cost is not so much “saved” as “shifted” from one community-funded
240	 Alaska Diabetes Prevention and Control, Alaska Diabetes Strategic Plan available at http://www.epi.alaska.gov/pubs/
diabetes.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

The two best ways to cut
health care costs in the
prisons are to reduce the
prison populations and to
prevent the need for medical
intervention.

organization (the Department of Corrections) to another (the local hospital). While legislators may feel
that it is fiscally responsible to reject the provision
of substantial resources to the Department’s Inmate
Health Service, limiting services in prison ultimately
costs the general public more (either as taxpayers
or as customers of health insurance companies), as
postponed treatment is usually more complicated
and expensive.

A better model for the Department to follow in trying
to treat prisoners would be to put prisoner and community health first, to practice preventive medicine and, where possible, to integrate prisoner health care while in custody with the health care the prisoners will receive on release.
A model program along these lines was adopted at the Hampden County Correctional
Center in Ludlow, Massachusetts.241 The emphasis at the program is on preventing illness.
The facility also seeks to connect prisoners with health care providers in the community,
rather than providing all care in the facility, in order to establish links between prisoners
and health care providers. This model promotes continuity of care and encourages prisoners to keep up with mental and physical health treatment upon release. The cornerstone
program, a comprehensive HIV and hepatitis screening and prevention program, was a net
cost-saving program.242 The overall costs associated with health care in Hampden County
were reasonable, constituting about 9% of the budget of the institution.243 By contrast, the
budget for inmate health care in Alaska constitutes 15% of the whole corrections budget.244 The legislature should consider funding a position for someone with a master’s in
public health to review the practices of the prison medical system and develop a plan for
preventing illness and injury. Lots of valuable public health research has been conducted
in prisons, aimed at prison-specific problems. Such an approach would improve the general health of prisoners while reducing overall costs.
Another area of modern concern, in light of present sentencing practices, is the increas-

241	 Conklin et al., A Public Health Model to Connect Correctional Health Care with Communities, 88 Am. J. Pub. Health,
1249-50 (1998).
242	 Massachusetts Public Health Board, Correctional Health: The Missing Key to Improving the Public’s Health and Safety
at 16 (2003), available at http://www.mphaweb.org/resources/prison_health-5_05.pdf.
243	 Conklin et al., Abstract: A Public Health Model for Correctional Care, Proceedings of the National HIV Prevention
Conference, available at http://gateway.nlm.nih.gov/MeetingAbstracts/ma?f=102187764.html. Although health costs
have shifted in the interim, the costs of jail health care at Hampden ran just below the national average at the time.
Massachusetts Public Health Board, Correctional Health: The Missing Key to Improving the Public’s Health and Safety
at 17 (2003), available at http://www.mphaweb.org/resources/prison_health-5_05.pdf.
244	 State of Alaska, FY2010 Governor’s Operating Budget, Department of Corrections Summary available at http://gov.
state.ak.us/omb/10_omb/budget/DOC/dept20.pdf (showing a proposed Department of Corrections budget of $248 million); State of Alaska, FY2010 Governor’s Operating Budget, Department of Corrections Inmate Health Care (showing a
prisoner health care budget of $37 million), available at http://gov.state.ak.us/omb/10_omb/budget/DOC/comp705.pdf.

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ing numbers of elderly prisoners.245 Sentencing prisoners to decades in prison for serious
crimes has become a nationwide phenomenon. From a crime prevention perspective, the
new sentences can make little sense: a 60- or 70-year old is unlikely to leave prison and
return to a life of armed robbery. Yet long sentences with little room for judicial or correctional judgment may keep him in prison, to little practical purpose and at great medical
expense to the state.
An attempt at reform might be made by making all prisoners 60 or older eligible for parole
after serving either 25% of their sentences or at least ten years in prison (to accommodate
life prisoners and prisoners in on extremely long sentences).

v. Recommendations by the ACLU of Alaska on Medical Care
1.	 Develop a complaint procedure that allows for access to second opinions and an independent, objective official to hear medical complaints efficiently and frequently;
2.	 Ensure that inmates requesting medical care receive adequate treatment within 24
hours, by tracking the turn-around time from filing of a cop-out to meeting with a
provider;
3.	 Create enforcement mechanisms like strict reprimands or a “three-strike rule” for
correctional officers who fail to transfer a medical request to the proper medical
staff within a certain time period, and for medical officers who fail to review these
requests within a certain time period;
4.	 Provide facilities with proper exercise space and equipment;
5.	 Offer diets for inmates with health-related dietary restrictions like diabetes;
6.	 Write clear and precise policy instructions as to the use of medical treatment,
care, and segregation, and enforce these instructions;
7.	 Provide periodic physical health examinations for prisoners, to flag issues that
require the provision of medical care, especially preventive care;
8.	 Develop an electronic medical records system, using appropriate technology to
ensure prisoner privacy, to allow improved analysis of medical records and supervision of care in other facilities;
9.	 Supervise prison health care through a systematic program of quality assurance,
including assigning some providers to issue targeted in-person interviews, physicals, and second opinions on prisoner health care;
10.	Improve health data collection from the many institutions in Alaska and look for
trends in the data, such as excessive delays in response to prisoner requests and
unusual frequency of particular prisoner complaints from one facility;
11.	Set up a systemic review of negative outcomes, such as deaths, hospital admissions, or prolonged stays in medical segregation, to detect medical errors or lack
245	 The number of offenders over the age of 50 who were sentenced to at least 10 years in custody rose by 20% in just the
last two years. Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile, at 62 (showing 63 long-term offenders – those
in custody for 10 years or more - aged 50 or older); Alaska Department of Corrections, 2006 Offender Profile, at 62
(showing 52 long-term offenders aged 50 or older).

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

of resources and to prevent recurrence of the outcome;
12.	Draft policies that aim to directly and consistently address long-term medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, as well as infectious diseases
such as HIV and Hepatitis, emulating nationally recognized correctional health
care programs;
13.	Dedicate further resources to hiring at least one more physician-level provider and
one public health worker with a masters degree in public health to improve patient
care and the management of the correctional health system;
14.	Develop a multi-pronged plan for providing care at institutions outside the
Southcentral area, including hiring more providers to work in the facilities, allowing providers to travel to the area periodically to provide care, and to improve telemedicine consultation; and
15.	Create a special parole proceeding to improve access to medical parole for aging
or disabled prisoners who have served many years of long sentences.

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D. Mental Health Care in Alaskan Prisons
The problem of mental illness in prisons poses huge challenges to the administration of any
prison system. The needs of many mentally ill prisoners are profound. Too often, the prison system must make up for a lack of community mental health resources. Administrators
already charged with maintaining security and control over the prison population are also
faced with the challenge of running mental health care facilities inside their prisons.
The first challenge in the treatment of mental illness is to identify those needing treatment. Prisoners with diagnosed mental illnesses may be prompted not to reveal their illness because they fear stigmatization, distrust prison authorities, or dislike the treatment
they receive for it. Other prisoners may have undiagnosed mental illness, since they come
from impoverished backgrounds with insufficient medical care or from rural areas where
mental health resources are scarce. In Alaska, about 12% of all prisoners have been diagnosed with a mental illness by an outside source but have not been identified as mentally
ill by the Department of Corrections, in part because of flaws in the intake and screening
process.246
Prisons must also guard, especially at the initial screening stage, against the risk of suicide. Prisoners are far more likely to commit suicide than the general public.247 Prisoners
at risk of suicide need special care to prevent successful suicide. National organizations
have developed standards for the treatment of a potentially suicidal prisoner; unfortunately, the current treatment of suicidal prisoners falls short of the standards set forth,
particularly as suicidal prisoners are often housed in isolation which tends to promote

246	 Out of 39,899 prisoners admitted to ADOC custody from June 2002 to July 2006, 11,631 had been identified as having a
mental illness either in Department records, in Medicaid records, or in the records of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute
(API). A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 39. The Department records identified
6,993 of 39,899 (17.5%) prisoners as having a mental illness. Id. 4,638 prisoners (12% of the 39,899) were identified
solely from the records of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and the Medicaid program, but not in the ADOC records. Id.
While the combined ADOC-Medicaid-API records indicate about 29% [11,631/39,899] of all prisoners admitted over the
course of four years had a mental illness, the Department records on their own indicated only 17.5% of the 39, 899
prisoners had a mental illness – meaning the Department files identified only about 58% of those who had been identified as mentally ill by some source.
247	 The incidence of suicide among local jail inmates was 47 per 100,000 inmates in 2002; among state prisoners, the rate
was 14 per 100,000 prisoners. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dep’t of Justice, Suicide and Homicide in State Prisons
and Local Jails available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/shsplj.pdf. Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death
in state prisons, accounting for 6% of all deaths in state prisons, but accounts for one-third of all deaths in local jails.
Id.; Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dep’t of Justice, Medical Causes of Death in State Prisons, 2001-04 available at http://
www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/mcdsp04.pdf. By contrast, the incidence of suicide among the general population was
10.9 per 100,000. National Institute of Mental Health, Suicide in the U.S.: Statistics and Prevention at http://www.nimh.
nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

In Alaska, about 12% of
all prisoners have been
diagnosed with a mental
illness by an outside source
but have not been identified
as mentally ill by the
Department of Corrections,
in part because of flaws in
the intake and screening
process.

successful suicide.248 A lack of treatment and followup for suicidal prisoners also tends to increase the
risk of future suicide.
The lack of staff and resources for mental health
treatment means that the problems of mental illness
in prison are undertreated. While two acute psychiatric units and three sub acute units statewide are
good resources for prisoners, the hundreds and hundreds of mentally ill prisoners outside those units
can end up with limited in-custody treatment options. Creating new sub acute units in other facilities
and allowing more access to treatment for prisoners in general population would improve in-custody
mental health care substantially. A lack of access to
psychiatric medication and counseling was a common complaint of prisoners.

Last, the overall experience of prisoners in segregation showed that a concerning number of those spending long periods of time in segregation tended to have serious mental illnesses. Given that segregation is widely believed to make existing mental illnesses
worse, the placement of mentally ill prisoners in segregation should be avoided whenever
possible.
The accounts of prisoners and the research conducted for this report show the need for
improved identification of mentally ill prisoners, better suicide precautions, more access
to treatment and medication, increased mental health staffing, and alternative responses
to mentally ill prisoners who would otherwise end up in segregation. By addressing these
challenges, the community will see reduced recidivism and improved participation by prisoners in society on release.

248	 A representative of the Department stated that prisoners might be placed in segregation for a 24-hour period but
would then be moved to an acute mental health care unit if the circumstances warranted. No Department procedures
available to the ACLU of Alaska reflected this practice, but indicated that placement in segregation was the standard
practice. Upon reviewing two prisoner files which were not disclosed to the Department for comment, one file revealed
that the prisoner spent three days in segregation without being sent to a mental health unit; the other file revealed that
the other prisoner was sent directly to the acute mental health unit, but was placed in a solitary cell and first received a
visit from a mental health counselor four days after placement in the unit. Had the records been reviewed for comment
by the Department, the Department might have been able to determine that proper procedures had been followed. The
ACLU will conduct further research with more prisoner records.

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i. Legal Standards on Mental Health Care
1. International Standards
Most international standards applicable to the realm of physical health also apply to the
arena of medical health. The fundamental demand of international human rights law in
relation to general health care – that prisoners ought to receive the same health care they
would receive outside the prison – is the hallmark of the requirements for mental health
care as well.249 International guidelines do define some specific requirements for prisoners based on their particular mental health conditions, including the right to provision of
mental health care under the least restrictive conditions and the least invasive treatment
possible.250 Under international law, the medical officers should “see and examine every
prisoner as soon as possible after his admission and thereafter as necessary” in order
to discover any physical or mental health problems and take all the necessary treatment
measures.251 The officer should also provide for the segregation of individuals with contagious or infectious conditions.252 In addition, any sick prisoners who require special attention must be transferred to a specialized institution or civil hospital.253 While mentally
insane inmates should be taken to mental institutions, other prisoners with mental disorders should be observed and treated in specialized institutions under medical management.254 Also, institutions’ medical services should “provide for the psychiatric treatment
of all other prisoners who are in need of such treatment.”255

2. Domestic Standards
The primary basis in the United States Constitution for asserting a right to treatment
of mental illness, just as with physical ailments, arises under the Eighth Amendment’s
prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” and, for unsentenced prisoners, a correlative right against punishment prior to adjudication under the Due Process Clause of

249	 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Art. 12.1 (recognizing the right of everyone to the
enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health); United Nations, Body of Principles for
the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, adopted by the General Assembly in its
Resolution 43/173, of 9 December 1988, Principle 9. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 40.3.
250	 U.N. General Assembly, Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental
Health Care, A/RES/46/119, 17 Dec. 1991, Principle 9 available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/principles.htm.
The rights of prisoners to mental health care are no different than those of non-prisoners in the outside world, except
in the case of necessity. Id., Principle 20.
251	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Art. 24.
252	 Id., Art. 24.
253	 Id., Art. 22.2.
254	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 82.1-2. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 12.1-2.
255	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 82.4.

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the Fourteenth Amendment.256 Providing “reasonably necessary” psychiatric care is a
Constitutional requirement.257 Six basic Constitutional requirements in the provision of
mental health care are: 1) a basic screening process for mental illness; 2) psychiatric
treatment beyond isolation and monitoring; 3) participation of mental health professionals
in treatment; 4) accurate and complete mental health record-keeping; 5) avoiding prescription of medications in a dangerous manner, whether by overdosing or lack of followup; and 6) the identification, supervision, and treatment of suicidal prisoners.258 In Alaska,
the related standards arise under the “cruel and unusual punishment” standard as well
as the “right to reformation.”259

ii. Mental Illness in Alaska Prisons
1. The Scope of the Problem
a. The Population of the Mentally Ill in Prison
Mental illness pervades the prison system. Many of the individuals interviewed for this
report self-identified as suffering from mental illness, and many had previously received
mental health care, including hospitalization, prior to incarceration. An earlier study estimated that 34% of the prison population suffers from some form of mental illness.260 In
the survey conducted for this report, 34% of prisoners self-identified as having a mental
illness. Depending on how mental illness is defined and how studies are conducted, the
estimated number of mentally ill prisoners nationwide in jails and prisons may range anywhere from 16%261 to 64%262: meaning that anywhere between 700 and 3,000 prisoners in
Alaska may have a mental illness.263 The best Alaska specific study showed that 29% of all
256	 U.S. Const., Amdt. VIII & XIV; see also Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979).
257	 See, e.g., Langley v. Coughlin, 888 F.2d 252, 254 (2d Cir. 1989).
258	 Ruiz v. Estelle, 503 F.Supp. 1265, 1339 (S.D. Tex. 1980) overruled on other grounds 679 F.2d 1115 (5th Cir. 1982) amended
688 F.2d 266 (5th Cir. 1982).
259	 Alaska Const., Art. I, Sec. 12; Rust v. State, 582 P.2d 134, 142 (Alaska 1978).
260	 Alaska Judicial Council, Alaska Felony Process: 1999, at 66; Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries
in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 8. According to the Mental Health Trust study, an average of 34% of individuals were Mental Health Trust beneficiaries, while 41% of admissions to DOC custody are Mental Health Trust beneficiaries. The distinction drawn between admissions and unique individuals’ accounts for the fact that a single person
may be admitted to the prison systems several times in a single year.
261	 Ditton, Paula M., Dep’t of Justice, Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates and Probationers (1999) (showing that 16%
of state prison and local jail inmates reported having a major mental illness or spending at least one night in a psychiatric hospital) available at http://ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/mhtip.pdf .
262	 James, Doris J. & Glaze, Lauren E., Dep’t of Justice, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates (Sept. 2006)
(showing that 64% of jail inmates had symptoms of mental illness and 56% of state prison inmates had symptoms of
mental illness) available at http://ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf .
263	 The total in- and out-of-state prison population tends to stay around 4,400. Since Red Rock Correctional Center does
not accept prisoners with serious mental illness nor offer any long-term treatment, prisoners with known mental illnesses will be kept in-state. The above numbers were estimates obtained by taking 16% and 64% of 4,400.

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No substance abuse or mental health disorders: 4%
- Mental health disorders

-

Substance
abuse

Both mental health
disorders and
substance abuse

Sources: Alaska Department of Corrections; Alaska Mental Health Trust
How Many Alaska Inmates Have Substance Abuse or Mental Health Disorders? [‘From: Martin, Stephanie and Colt, Steve,
Institute for Social and Economic Research, “The Cost of Crime: Could The State Reduce Future Crime and Save Money by
Expanding Education and Treatment Programs?”]

unique individuals admitted to the custody of the Department could be identified as Trust
Beneficiaries.264 The Department itself reports that 14,000 of 38,000 (about 36%) of prisoners admitted annually have a mental health diagnosis of some sort.265
Of the 155 prisoners interviewed, 53 (34%) inmates reported having been diagnosed with a
mental disorder or disease. Of those reporting mental health problems, 11 (7% of all prisoners interviewed) had bi-polar disorder, 32 (21%) had some form of depression, 6 (4%)
had post-traumatic stress disorder, 7 (5%) had some form of schizophrenia, a very serious
mental condition involving the individual’s mental break with reality.

264	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 43 (showing
that 11,631 of 39,899 prisoners admitted to DOC custody were found to have been diagnosed with a mental illness by
the Department or to appear in the records of either the Alaska Psychiatric Institute or Medicaid and qualified as Trust
Beneficiaries). The classification is in some sense over inclusive, because Trust Beneficiaries include individuals with
ailments that are not mental illnesses, such as developmental disorder, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, dementia, or alcohol-related psychosis. The classification is under inclusive because the study does not seek to
count prisoners who suffer from undiagnosed mental illness – not improbable given the poverty of the typical prisoner
and the accompanying lack of access to mental health care, and the number of rural Alaskans geographically distant
from mental health providers. The same difficulty is revealed in the sharply different 1999 and 2006 studies from the
Department of Justice cited above: comparatively few prisoners with mental illness were detected in the 1999 study
which looked solely at whether prisoners had a diagnosis of a mental illness or a history of admission to a mental hospital. One could safely say that most prisoners fitting those criteria were mentally ill; however, the study would likely
not catch prisoners with undiagnosed mental illnesses. In the later study, one could argue the numbers were over
inclusive, since the study relied exclusively on the number of symptoms reported, without a professional determination
that the severity of an individual prisoner’s symptoms justified a clinical diagnosis.
265	 Alaska Department of Corrections, FY2010 Governor’s Operating Budget: Inmate Health Care, at 3 available at http://
gov.state.ak.us/omb/10_omb/budget/DOC/comp705.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

b. Recidivism and the Cost of Untreated Mental Illness
According to one measure, prisoners leaving prison and returning to the community tend,
on the whole, to have made little progress in their condition and might, in some cases,
have experienced a decline in mental health. The Alaska Mental Health Trust found that,
on the whole, prisoners who had been receiving mental health treatment at the time of
admission to the prison system were, after release from custody, one-third less likely
to receive Medicaid-funded mental health treatment (suggesting that entry to the prison
system disrupted existing care).266 The study also found that those who resumed receiving
mental health care imposed higher costs on the Medicaid system, indicating that “either
the cost of mental health care has significantly increased over a relatively short period of
time or the conditions of people with mental illness released from the ADOC worsened,
thereby requiring more expensive mental health interventions, or likely some combination of the two.”267 The Department reports that four clinicians and four specially trained
probation officers work a caseload of 190 mentally ill probationers and parolees newly
released into the community, as well as working with the Mental Health Court to support newly released prisoners. Nevertheless, based on Mental Health Trust research, the
current level of mental health treatment seems to leave prisoners worse off after leaving
prison,268 rather than better off. A concerted effort to improve mental health treatment will
save money and improve the outlook for the mentally ill throughout the state.
The largest cost of mental illness is the cost of reincarceration. Two different studies found
substantially more recidivism among the mentally ill than among the general population.
The Alaska Judicial Council found that individuals with mental illness reoffended at a rate
eight percentage points higher than non-mentally ill individuals; a Mental Health Trust report found that released prisoners with mental illness reoffended at a rate eleven percentage points higher than those without mental illness.269 As shown above, the current effect
of incarceration on the long-term health of prisoners tends to be negative. By improving
the mental health of a prisoner, his likelihood of return to prison may be reduced.
The failure to detect and to treat mental illness amongst the incarcerated now results in
enormous costs later. A 2009 Institute of Social and Economic Research study indicated
266	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 45.
267	 Id.
268	 A representative of the Department of Corrections expressed concern about the methodology of the Mental Health
Trust report, including the inability of researchers to report whether the prisoners who had previously sought mental
health care had actually gotten better or whether they remained ill but untreated. The representative also expressed
concerns about whether the prisoner population polled involved prisoners who had been held briefly but released, for
whom it would be impossible for the Department to provide effective care. The Mental Health Trust report does indicate
a similar rate of discontinuation of mental health services for sentenced prisoners needing mental health care (34%),
who would presumably be spending longer periods of time in custody, and unsentenced prisoners needing mental
health care (32%). Id. at 45 (Table 18).
269	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 19; Alaska
Judicial Council, Recidivism in Alaska, at 24.

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that providing transitional services for prisoners with
mental illnesses leaving custody saved twice as much as
they cost by preventing reincarceration.270 The Department
of Corrections has a critical opportunity to provide supervised mental health treatment, thereby promoting community health and lowering recidivism rates. The legislature
has responded to the Department’s requests by increasing
funding for substance abuse treatment; increased funding
for mental health services will also improve the rehabilitation of prisoners and ease their transition into society. The
legislature should continue the expansion of these rehabilitative programs into the mental health field.

2. Detection of Mental Illness and Intake Procedures

A 2009 Institute of Social
and Economic Research
study indicated that
providing transitional
services for prisoners
with mental illnesses
leaving custody saved
twice as much as they
cost by preventing
reincarceration.

The records of the prison system show that mental illness
frequently goes undetected in the prisons. The Department
of Corrections commissioned the Alaska Mental Health
Trust – an agency that administers lands and funds dedicated to the treatment of the mentally ill in Alaska – to study mental illness in the correctional system. In December 2007,
the Mental Health Trust produced its report on the existing treatment of prisoners with
mental illnesses. The primary recommendation of the report was: “To review and revise
screening and assessment protocols for mental health to capture a higher, more accurate
portion of the population.”271 Despite the recommendations of the Mental Health Trust, the
Remand Screening Form used by the Department of Corrections indicates it was last revised on January 10, 2001.272 The Department reports the form is currently being revised,
although no new form has yet been produced. The Mental Health Trust recommended
revising the form, because, in comparing DOC records with those of the Mental Health
Trust, about 40% of prisoners with a mental illness have never been identified as having a

270	 Martin, Stephanie and Colt, Stephen, The Cost of Crime: Could The State Reduce Future Crime and Save Money by
Expanding Education and Treatment Programs?, at 3 available at http://www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/Publications/researchsumm/RS_71.pdf.
271	 The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, “A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections,”
December 2007, at iii.
272	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Remand Screening Form 807.14A (footer).

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disorder.273 Since no one can treat a patient whose problems have not been identified, the
gap in identifying prisoners with mental health problems suggests that many prisoners
with mental health problems get no treatment at all.
In addition to improving treatment and conditions for mental illness, an improved screening system could substantially reduce recidivism. The Mental Health Trust study found that
the prison system properly diagnosed prisoners with the most serious mental illnesses,
such as schizophrenia or psychosis, while those prisoners most likely to go unidentified
as mentally ill are those suffering from substance-related disorders and mood disorder
(such as depression or bipolar disorder).274 These same prisoners were found to be those
most prone to recidivism; the prisoners least likely to be identified as in need of treatment
are those most likely to commit new crimes.275 By improving the screening tool to detect
and treat those with hard-to-detect mental illnesses, the rates of recidivism for prisoners
with mood disorders – those most likely to reoffend – might decrease.
The best first step in preventing suicide in custody is a good initial screening for suicide
risk and mental health. At least three prisoners have killed themselves within a few days
of admission to the prison system since 2004;276 two more have died of overdoses or under
suspicious or other unknown conditions soon after admission, although the Department

273	 The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, “A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections,”
December 2007, at 39. See discussion in footnote 265 supra. Some of the disparity arose from under detection of
drug- or alcohol-related mental disorders, although mood disorders, such as depression, were also common among
the prisoners not identified by DOC as trust beneficiaries. The study compared the Department’s records of prisoners
known to the Department as having a mental illness with the records of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and Medicare
records showing Mental Health Trust beneficiaries who had received some kind of mental health counseling paid by
Medicare funds. Since the trust beneficiaries include those who suffer from traumatic brain injury, dementia, or other
ailments that do not fall into the conventional category of mental illness, it may be that the results were somewhat
overbroad. However, the total number of those prisoners suffering exclusively from ailments that are not classic mental illnesses but ones that would make them trust beneficiaries is very low. The Mental Health Trust Study identified
only 431 trust beneficiaries with traumatic brain injury or features of fetal alcohol syndrome out of 11,000 prisoners
qualifying as trust beneficiaries – less than 4% of those identified. Id. at 16. Most illnesses classified as Axis I disorders
are what lay people consider mental illnesses (depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc.). Only 2.8% of the prisoners
identified as having a diagnosis qualifying them for beneficiary status had an Axis II (a personality disorder) or Axis III
(a medical diagnosis such as a traumatic brain injury or fetal alcohol syndrome) disorder but no Axis I disorder, although 4.7% of prisoners were identified as beneficiaries even though they were described as having “no diagnosis” for
reasons that are unclear. Hornby Zeller Associates, Alaska Mental Health Trust Beneficiary Study, Part II: An Analysis
of Alaska Department of Corrections Databases, at 23 available at http://www.hornbyzeller.com/Projects_files/AK%20
DOC%20Phase%20III%20Part%20II%20Report%20FINAL.pdf.
274	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 41 (“Approximately
62 percent of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections were identified from sources provided by the
Department of Health and Social Services as opposed to databases maintained by the ADOC. Most of these had Axis
I substance-related disorders and generalized mood disorders such as depression. Only a small proportion of Trust
Beneficiaries with severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders were identified as not
having been known to both agencies.”). 29% of those prisoners not shared between the two databases had a mood
disorder, such as depression. 21% had an anxiety disorder. Only 2% had schizophrenia as a diagnosis, and only 3% had
psychosis as a diagnosis. Id. at 41 [chart].
275	 Id. at 32 (“On the whole, Trust Beneficiaries with severe mental illness were less likely to recidivate than Trust
Beneficiaries with mild mental illness or substance-related disorders who had a far higher rate of recidivism.”).
276	 The Department reports that these suicides reported no mental health history and denied any suicidal intention. As
stated below, the initial intake form did not include a mental health history query, however.

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states that these deaths were not suicides.277 Since the Department refuses to release
the records relating to these deaths because of privacy concerns, the ACLU of Alaska
cannot say whether these individuals were properly diagnosed with or treated for mental
illnesses or not.
In Alaska, the suicide rate is hard to compare to national standards, because of Alaska’s
mixed jail and prison system. In local jails nationwide, the rate of suicide was 47 per
100,000 detainees in 2002, while in state prisons the rate of suicide was 14 per 100,000
prisoners.278 Between 2001 and 2006, the average prisoner suicide rate was 23 per 100,000
prisoners in Alaska; lower than the average jail suicide rate and higher than the average
state prisoner rate.279 Compared to the state prison standard, one should expect less than
one suicide per year in a state prison system of 4,400 prisoners.280 Compared to the local
jail statistics, one would expect two suicides per year in a local jail system of 4,400 prisoners. Recently, the state has had years with no suicides, some with only one suicide, and
some with two suicides. In 2008, the prison system experienced four suicides – a number
as high as any year in the last 25 years. At the time of preproduction of this report, only one
prisoner suicide has been reported in 2009. While the four suicides in 2008 may have been
an anomaly, the four suicides in 2008 were four suicides too many. The state of Alaska
should not wait to see if future years compound the problem of prisoner suicides but reexamine its suicide prevention protocols today.

a. The Intake Screening Process and Form
The National Commission on Correctional Health Care – the organization that sets the
national standard for corrections health care certification – has said that the procedures
defined for initial screening of prisoners “might well be the most important of all [health
care] standards.”281 Failing to identify a prisoner with serious medical or mental health
needs can cause serious health problems, suicides, untreated substance withdrawal, etc.
Within 24 hours of admission to any prison in Alaska, a medical professional – usually a
nurse – should conduct an evaluation of the prisoner’s mental and physical health, using

277	 An ADOC report listing general causes of death for some prisoners was compared against admissions dates listed
in court records and, where relevant, media accounts of the deaths. Alaska Department of Corrections, Deaths in
Custody: 2000-07; “Inmate Dies Days After Suicide Attempt,” Fairbanks News-Miner, March 13, 2007 (indicating that a
prisoner attempted suicide about 10 days after admission to Fairbanks Correctional Center and died after a week in
the hospital).
278	 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dep’t of Justice, Suicide and Homicide in State Prisons and Local Jails available at http://
www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/shsplj.pdf.
279	 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dep’t of Justice, Deaths in Custody Statistical Tables: State prison deaths 2001-2006, Table
13, at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/dcrp/tables/dcst06spt13.htm.
280	 Multiplying the 14 per 100,000 times a prison population of 4,400 would give you a rate of 0.6 suicides per year – which
would lead one to expect three suicides every five years.
281	 National Commission on Corrections Health Care, The Most Important Standard: Receiving Screening, CorrectCare at 21
(Summer 2004), available at http://www.ncchc.org/resources/spotlight/18-3.html.

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the Criminal Remand Screening Form with a prisoner.282 The first page of the form used
at the time of booking consists mostly of basic questions relating to rough impressions
of the prisoner’s conditions. The second page of the form presents a short health screen.
The provider takes a set of vital signs, assesses the patient, and takes a medical history.
Subsequent to the release of the Mental Health Trust report and its recommendation to
change the screening process, the Department of Corrections experienced four prisoner
suicides in 2008, more than in any year this decade; a further prisoner suicide took place
in January 2009.283 The Department does report that the intake form is being revised; however, almost two years have passed since the Mental Health Trust report recommended
the revisions and no new form has yet been released. The inadequacy of the screening
process had also been discussed publicly years earlier.284 Several intake forms shown to
have good success already exist and could easily be adapted for use in the Department.285
The intake form in its current form omits several important questions.286 Among the most
important questions omitted from the three-page screening form are simple ones like:
Do you have a mental illness?287 Have you ever been diagnosed with any mental illnesses?
Have you ever been hospitalized for mental illness? Do you now or have you ever taken
282	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Policy 807.14 & Criminal Remand Screening Form 807.14A. Non-criminal detainees – those held in preventive detention as a danger to themselves or others or for intoxication – are screened with a
similar intake form. Alaska Department of Corrections, Title 47 Screening Form, 807.14B.
283	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Deaths: 2000-2007; Demer, Lisa, “Kenai Prisoner Dead in Apparent Suicide,”
Anchorage Daily News, Jan. 14, 2009 (“In 2008, there were four suicides in Alaska’s prisons and jails.”). The four suicides
in 2008 were more than the Department had experienced in many years. Since January 2009, however, no further suicides had been reported as of the prepublication date.
284	 Moras, Antonia, Mentally Ill Inmates in Alaska Prisons, 21 UAA Justice Forum 3 (Spring 2004) (“Moreover, screening at
intake can be inadequate for identifying the mentally ill, leading to lags in providing treatment and medication.”).
285	 For instance, one recent study commissioned by the Department of Justice adapted existing jail screening instruments
for the booking process and streamlined the process of evaluation to only two and a half minutes, while still properly
flagging more than 70 percent of male inmates and 60 percent of female inmates needing treatment. The assessment
relies on yes-or-no answers from the prisoners and not on the subjective impression of overworked, non-specialist
medical staff. Osher et al. “Validating a Brief Jail Mental Health Screen, Final Technical Report,” (2006) available at
http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/213805.pdf. According to a Department representative, the proposed form
includes the Brief Jail Mental Health Screen.
286	 Comparing the criteria listed on the standard intake form with the criteria recommended in an appropriate medical
text for consideration on admission to a jail on a standard interviewing form, the Criminal Remand Screening Form
omits: recent or past surgery, kidney disease (including that requiring dialysis), use of any assistive devices (cane,
wheelchair, CPAP, etc.), cancer, epilepsy, history of psychiatric medications, and history of psychiatric hospitalizations.
Raba, John M., Intake Screening and Periodic Health Examinations in Clinical Practice in Correctional Medicine (2006), at
45-46. The implications of omitting these basic health questions should be obvious; a prisoner at risk of experiencing
seizures or missing needed dialysis could be exposed to serious health risks in the general population in a prison setting. Most, though not all, questions omitted would be covered in the later health screening; however, prisoners should
not have to miss out on dialysis or other needed medical care for the two-week period they may wait for the follow-up
screening. Alaska Department of Corrections, Policy 807.14 available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/
pnp/pdf/807.14.pdf; Alaska Department of Corrections, Health History Form 807.14D, available at http://www.correct.
state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/807.14d.pdf.
287	 “Standards for screening and assessment developed by several national organizations suggest that, as with other
acute medical conditions, mental health and substance abuse issues need to be identified immediately on entry into
a correctional facility.” National Institute of Corrections, United States Department of Justice, Effective Prison Mental
Health Services: Guidelines to Expand and Improve Treatment, 2004, at 13.

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any psychiatric medications?288 The screening form does
include a very basic Mental Status Examination, in which
the health care worker is asked to evaluate the prisoner’s
appearance and mood and is asked whether the prisoner
is experiencing hallucinations or homicidal or suicidal
thoughts. The nursing instructions simply tell the providers to conduct “direct observation[s] of the prisoner” and
to check the appropriate boxes.289 Such instructions do not
give sufficient guidance to a typical registered nurse or licensed practitioner nurse to determine whether someone
needs mental health care.

The National Commission
on Correctional Health
Care – the organization
that sets the national
standard for corrections
health care certification
– has said that the
procedures defined
for initial screening of
prisoners “might well be
the most important of all
[health care] standards.”

Following the initial admission to the prison, prisoners are
supposed to get a more thorough medical evaluation within fourteen days.290 According to that evaluation form, the
prisoner is at this point first asked whether he or she has
a mental illness.291 However, the failure to ask this question at initial intake may leave prisoners with a history of
mental illness without treatment for fourteen days, which
could present a greater risk for suicide among those with
unidentified mental illness. 41% of all prisoners identified as having a mental illness have a history of at least
one suicide attempt.292 Since 2004, at least three prisoners have committed suicide within
fourteen days of their admission to the Alaska prison system, and two more have died
under indeterminate circumstances or of a drug overdose within a few days of admission
to the Alaska prison system, although the Department indicates that the overdoses were

288	 Asked these basic questions, 35% of prisoners interviewed for this report indicated that they had a mental illness or
had received treatment for a mental illness – not far off the 34% of prisoners identified with a mental illness in the
prison population. Alaska Judicial Council, Alaska Felony Process: 1999, at 66; Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of
Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 8. While the authors do not claim scientific significance,
as the sample of prisoners polled was not random, these results are suggestive.
289	 The nursing protocols for conducting the mental health evaluations indicate simply that the provider should conduct
“the Mental Health Screening by direct observations of the prisoner. Check all criteria under the following categories
that apply to the prisoner: Appearance, Attitude, Motor Behavior, Speech, Mood/Affect, Cognitive, Thought Processes,
Thought Content, Hallucinations.” Alaska Department of Corrections, “Nursing Protocols 2.4: Criminal Remand
Screen.” This protocol provides no further guidance as to how a nurse should assess a prisoner’s affect or mood or
cognitive process, or which responses should be most concerning, or how many abnormal responses should cause a
provider to seek follow-up with mental health staff. By contrast, the Department provides more specific instructions on
far rarer conditions, such as care of eye prostheses. Alaska Department of Corrections, “Nursing Protocols 2.21: Care
of Eye Prostheses.” Many excellent medical tracts are available that describe detailed methods for evaluating mental
state. See, e.g., David C. Martin, The Mental Status Examination in Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory
Examinations (Walker et al. eds.; 3d Ed. 1990).
290	 Alaska Department of Corrections, “Health Examinations,” Policy 807.14(d).
291	 Alaska Department of Corrections, “Health History Form,” 807.14D.
292	 Hornby Zeller Associates, Alaska Mental Health Trust Beneficiary Study, Part II: An Analysis of Alaska Department of
Corrections Databases, at 21 available at http://www.hornbyzeller.com/Projects_files/AK%20DOC%20Phase%20III%20
Part%20II%20Report%20FINAL.pdf.

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not suicides.293 The secondary health screening received 14 days after admission solely
relies upon self-reporting of the individual’s history. The secondary health screening contains only the one mental health question, asking whether someone has ever been treated
for mental illness. The form does not encourage any further analysis of the individual’s
mental state. Prisoners do not see a mental health professional as a matter of course for
a mental health evaluation; the only required mental health evaluation is typically conducted by a nurse who may have little mental health training.
The Mental Health Trust has observed a substantial gap between the prisoners diagnosed
by the prison system as actually being mentally ill and those who have previously received
mental health services and recommended a review of the screening process. Concerns
described here about the current screening form, the instructions provided for providers,
and the low level of mental health expertise for the providers who conduct the screening
may illustrate some of the problems with the screening process.

3. Suicide Precautions
Even for those prisoners targeted as in need of suicide precautions, some of the treatment
provided is inappropriate or ineffective. Prisoners interviewed by the ACLU of Alaska who
reported on their treatment after being identified as suicidal (or in some cases after unsuccessful suicide attempts) reported almost universally that they were placed in seclusion, either in a segregation unit or in an intake cell.294 Some of these prisoners reported
that their clothes and belongings were removed. Some wore only a “suicide smock” – a
one-piece garment designed in such a way that a prisoner cannot form a noose with it.
The prisoners generally reported spending five to ten days in seclusion, with little human
contact, with no means to pass the time spent in seclusion, and without receiving any
ongoing treatment – neither talk therapy nor medication. After five to ten days, a mental
health worker would visit them and ask them if they still felt like hurting themselves.295
The prisoners interviewed all reported being released from seclusion after simply denying any suicidal intentions. None – even those who actually attempted suicide – reported
receiving follow-up counseling after release from seclusion.
Numerous mental health authorities strenuously emphasize that suicidal prisoners
293	 An ADOC report listing general causes of death for some prisoners was compared against admissions dates listed
in court records and, where relevant, media accounts of the deaths. Alaska Department of Corrections, Deaths in
Custody: 2000-07; “Inmate Dies Days After Suicide Attempt,” Fairbanks News-Miner, March 13, 2007 (indicating that a
prisoner attempted suicide about 10 days after admission to Fairbanks Correctional Center and died after a week in
the hospital).
294	 The Department does not track statistics on how many prisoners are identified as suicide risks or what precautions are
provided for them.
295	 The official policy of the Department of Corrections is that prisoners should be visited daily by a mental health professional. Alaska Department of Corrections, Suicide Prevention and Awareness: Policy 807.20, available at http://www.
correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/807.20.pdf. Prisoners’ anecdotal reports did not indicate such frequent interaction with mental health staff while in segregation.

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should not be placed in seclusion unless subject to continual monitoring. Continual monitoring includes, for instance, being viewed through a full-length glass window; however,
periodic checks, such as those performed every 15 minutes, do not meet a “continual
monitoring” standard.296 The NCCHC states that potentially suicidal prisoners should generally be “housed in general population, mental health unit, or medical infirmary, and
located in close proximity to staff.”297 The National Institute of Corrections – a research
unit for the U.S. Department of Justice – stated the case against isolation of suicidal prisoners even more strongly: “One of the most important and consistent findings in suicide
prevention research is the strong correlation between segregation and successful suicide. Overwhelmingly consistent research shows that isolation should be avoided whenever possible.”298 The APA argues that suicidal depression should be a contraindication for
segregation.299 The relationship of seclusion to suicide is twofold: first, seclusion can give
a prisoner the privacy needed to commit suicide successfully without interruption from a
guard or another prisoner; second, the experience of seclusion “may cause extreme stress
for a mentally ill person and can promote decompensation and exacerbate the illness.”300
In contrast to the national consensus against seclusion of suicidal prisoners without continual monitoring, the suicide prevention policy allows two housing options for a suicidal
prisoner: “in general population with other prisoners, observed and closely supervised
by staff” or placement in a “single cell/segregation” with close supervision which “may
include” periodic checks every five to fifteen minutes, the use of restraints, or the use of
a camera to observe the prisoner.301 While the practice of 5 to 15 minute periodic checks
fails to meet the national guidelines, review of prisoner medical records raised concerns
that even the Department’s standards were not being met. In two cases not submitted
for comment to the Department of Corrections, periodic checks were ordered by mental
health providers and performed in either 30 minute or one hour intervals. In contrast to
Alaska policy, the NCCHC states that observation by camera is not a substitute for in-

296	 A study of suicides in mental hospitals found that frequent but intermittent checks, e.g., five times an hour, were ineffective in preventing suicides. Paton, Jo & Jenkins, Rachel, Suicide and Suicide Attempts in Prison, in Prevention and
Treatment of Suicidal Behavior, at 321 (2005, Oxford Press; Hawton ed.).
297	 National Commission on Correctional Health Care, Standards for Health Services in Jails, at 102 (2008).
298	 National Institute of Corrections, United States Dep’t of Justice, Effective Prison Mental Health Services: Guidelines
Expand and Improve Treatment, at 48 (2004).

to

299	 Id. at 42 (“Inmates in current, severe psychiatric crisis, including but not limited to acute psychosis and suicidal depression, should be removed from segregation until they are able to psychologically tolerate segregation.”).
300	 Id. at 41. See also Hayes, Lindsay M., Technical Assistance Report on Suicide Prevention Practices Within the Massachusetts
Department of Corrections (“In determining the most appropriate location to house a suicidal inmate, there is often the
tendency for correctional officials in general to physically isolate and restrain the individual. These responses may be
more convenient for staff, but they are detrimental to the inmate. The use of isolation not only escalates the inmate’s
sense of alienation, but also further serves to remove the individual from proper staff supervision.”) available at http://
www.mass.gov/Eeops/docs/doc/hayes_ma_doc_report.pdf.
301	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Suicide Prevention and Awareness: Policy 807.20, available at http://www.correct.
state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/807.20.pdf.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

person observation.302 The policy conflicts with the national standard and leaves suicidal
prisoners an unacceptable window of time in which to commit suicide outside the observation of officers. Neither does the policy indicate that seclusion is the “last resort” that
research and standards-makers describe. While the Department does not track the use
of suicide precautions, the anecdotal reports of prisoners on suicide watch suggest that
seclusion is frequently used as a response to potential suicide.
The procedures designated for supervision of the suicidal prisoner also raise concerns.
Perhaps one reason why each suicidal prisoner reported placement in segregation – rather than in general population, closely monitored by staff – is that the only form provided for
mental health providers presupposes placement in segregation.303 While the suicide prevention policy theoretically permits the housing of suicidal prisoners in general population
“observed and closely supervised by staff,” the policy does not describe the meaning of
how suicidal prisoners should be “observed and closely supervised by staff”: should staff
check on prisoners every 15 minutes? Every hour? During the day or just at night? Do staff
members need to record their observations? The policy gives no guidance for what constitutes minimal observation. While each case is different, failing to set some minimum
threshold of care leaves open the possibility that suicidal prisoners in general population
will get no special observation at all.
The suicide precautions form also allows the provider to order “hard” restraints such as
metal shackles and hard plastic cuffs,304 even though such restraints are not appropriate for use as a therapeutic restraint.305 A Department spokesperson indicated that hard
restraints are used only for prisoners for whom soft restraints are not appropriate, giving
the example of a prisoner who attempted to chew threw his soft restraints. While the ACLU
of Alaska recommends the Department should wholly prohibit the use of hard restraints
in keeping with NCCHC guidelines, the protocols for use ought, at minimum, to be revised
to limit the use of hard restraints to a last resort for prisoners who have escaped from soft
302	 “Other supervision aids (e.g., closed circuit television, inmate companions or watchers) can be used as a supplement to, but never a substitute for, staff monitoring.” National Commission on Correctional Health Care, Standards for
Health Services in Jails, at 102 (2008). The Director of Psychiatric Services for the Missouri Department of Corrections
observed, based on his experience, that: “[t]hough video monitoring is an excellent tool for ensuring uninterrupted observation, it may not be as effective as the direct personal observation by staff.” Daniel, Annaseril E., Preventing Suicide
in Prison: A Collaborative Responsibility of Administrative, Custodial, and Clinical Staff, 34 J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law 164
(2006).
303	 The appropriate form begins “This prisoner is hereby recommended for placement in segregation by a mental health
or medical professional.” (emphasis added) Alaska Department of Corrections, Suicide Precautions: Policy 807.20a,
available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/807.20a.pdf.
304	 The precautions form provides a check box for “hard” under the heading of “restraints.” Alaska Department of
Corrections, Suicide Precautions: Policy 807.20a, available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/
pdf/807.20a.pdf. The Department’s official restraint policy, referred to in the suicide prevention policy, Policy 807.20
(“use of therapeutic restraints per policy 807.03”), does not indicate that hard restraints are prohibited, and even
cites “plastic leg and wrist cuffs” as appropriate restraints. Alaska Department of Corrections, Use of Restraints
and Seclusion for Therapeutic Purposes: Policy 807.03, available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/
pdf/807.03.pdf.
305	 “Metal or hard plastic devices (such as handcuffs and leg shackles) are not used for clinically ordered restraint.”
National Commission on Correctional Health Care, Standards for Health Services in Jails, at 124 (2008).

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restraints.
A better option for managing prisoners at risk for suicide would be to house them in a
single open unit of the prison, specially designed or adapted to limit physical opportunities for successful suicide (such as protruding objects upon which a prisoner could hang
himself or stairs and balconies a prisoner could throw himself from), specially staffed
with more correctional officers trained to manage suicidal prisoners.306 One of the difficulties presented by the crowding situation, of course, is that remedies of this sort become
harder and harder to accomplish when facilities must hold more than their designed capacities since no extra space can be found.307 Three facilities have sub acute mental health
units which could be adapted to this purpose: Palmer, Hiland, and Spring Creek. However,
prisoner reports indicate that, even in those institutions, segregation is still used to house
suicidal prisoners, at least in some cases, instead of the sub acute units. The suicide prevention policy of the Department does not offer a sub acute unit or other special housing
unit as an option for housing a suicidal prisoner.
Another difficulty with the existing suicide prevention policy is that, using isolation as the
primary means to prevent suicide, the prison system has limited options in responding to
a prisoner who is not so acutely suicidal that he needs continual supervision, but who may
not be entirely well. Two recent cases – a prisoner who killed himself several months after
admission by leaping off the second tier of his housing unit and a prisoner who hanged
himself on a towel rack in his cell – both highlighted this concern. Both prisoners had
caught the attention of the prison mental health services as presenting a suicide risk.
Yet both were living in general population and both took advantage of the freedom provided there – in one case, the open second tier; in another, the privacy of his cell and a
towel rack – to kill themselves. One could readily understand that prison mental health
authorities would be unwilling to house these men indefinitely in segregation until they
could be “sure” that the risk of suicide was reduced: for one, that period of time could be
very lengthy; for another, the experience of isolation could have worsened the symptoms
and deprived the prisoners of constructive opportunities in general population, such as
employment, that would help them recover. Providing prison administrators and mental
health staff with a third option – housing not as restrictive as segregation but allowing
improved monitoring and physical safety for at-risk prisoners – may prevent future suicides by prisoners in the same position. Not only is segregation contraindicated by prison
research as a housing option for suicidal prisoners, it is a clumsy tool for response to a

306	 The NCCHC states that suicidal prisoners should not be placed in seclusion, except where continually monitored,
and instead recommend such prisoners be housed “in general population, mental health unit, or medical infirmary,
in close proximity to staff” where cells have been made “as suicide-resistant as possible (e.g., without protrusions of
any kind that would allow hanging).” National Commission on Correctional Health Care, Standards for Health Services in
Jails, at 102 (2008).
307	 “An overcrowded and short-staffed prison is likely to increase suicide risk due to lack of access to medical care, increase in assaults, lower staff-offender ratio, lack of opportunity for activity, lack of food and clothing, unwanted interactions, and rapidly changing social structures within the prison.” Daniel, Annaseril E., Preventing Suicide in Prison: A
Collaborative Responsibility of Administrative, Custodial, and Clinical Staff, 34 J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law 164 (2006).

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whole spectrum of prisoners at risk of suicide.308
Prisoners described the hardships associated with suicide precautions: the deprivation of
property and clothing, the provision of only a “suicide smock” – designed not for warmth
or comfort, but to prevent use in a hanging – in a cold cell, laying on a mattress on the
floor, a lack of human contact, and (in some cases) no visitation, as a punitive environment to be escaped, rather than a therapeutic one encouraging recovery.309 Prisoners on
administrative segregation as a protective measure (as in protective custody or on suicide
watch) have been observed at some facilities escorted in manacles and handcuffed to the
wall during attorney interviews, just like prisoners held in segregation as a danger to the
facility or prisoners held for punitive reasons – even though these prisoners are not accused of assaults or believed to be more dangerous than the average prisoner. Numerous
prisoners indicated that, after staying for days in segregation, they told mental health
workers that they no longer wished to harm themselves primarily so that they could escape isolation, rather than indicating actual improvement in their condition. Creating an
environment that feels punitive to prisoners may encourage them to state falsely that the
risk of suicide has passed.
At least as important for managing suicidal prisoners as the physical housing of the prisoners is the treatment regimen for suicidal prisoners, including treatment both during
the suicidal period and follow-up afterwards.310 All of the prisoners reporting placement
in segregation for suicide risk denied receiving any treatment – either pharmaceutical or
talk therapy – while in segregation; all reported receiving no follow-up counseling after
release from segregation, even those who had actually attempted suicide. A Department
representative indicated correctly that the Department protocols require that a mental
health provider should visit a prisoner at least every 24 hours.311 However, this practice
was contradicted by prisoner accounts. Review of two prisoner medical files – not shared
with the Department for comment in the absence of releases – revealed that only one of
the prisoners received daily visits, while the other went four days before the first visit from

308	 In a comprehensive review of suicide procedures in the Massachusetts prison system after a rash of prisoner suicides,
an expert retained by the department recommended that the department create “transitional” housing to ease prisoners’ return from suicide watch cells. Hayes, Lindsay M., Technical Assistance Report on Suicide Prevention Practices
within the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, available at http://www.mass.gov/Eeops/docs/doc/hayes_ma_doc_
report.pdf.
309	 One of the conclusions of the review of the Massachusetts prison system was that housing on suicide watch tended
to carry punitive connotations, particularly in the denial of telephone contact and visits. Hayes, Lindsay M., Technical
Assistance Report on Suicide Prevention Practices within the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, available at http://
www.mass.gov/Eeops/docs/doc/hayes_ma_doc_report.pdf.
310	 The NCCHC suggests that mental health providers should seek to address the “underlying reasons . . . for the suicidal
ideation” including “treatment needs when the patient is at heightened risk of suicide as well as follow-up treatment interventions and monitoring strategies to prevent relapse.” National Commission on Correctional Health Care,
Standards for Health Services in Jails, at 102 (2008).
311	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Suicide Prevention and Awareness: Policy 807.20(a)(6), available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/807.20.pdf

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a mental health practitioner.312 A lack of treatment for the prisoners most vulnerable to
suicide runs a strong risk of successful future suicide attempts.
The overall portrait of suicide precautions depicted by prisoners who had experienced
them told a consistent story of the use of segregation as the first and primary recourse
of the prison system is corroborated by the suicide policy and accompanying form drafted
by the Department which leave little option for other response. The use of segregation to
treat suicidal prisoners is roundly criticized by experts in the field as counterproductive.
Prisoner accounts of lack of treatment in segregation and after release suggest gaps in
treatment for prisoners at risk of suicide. A new procedure to protect prisoners at risk of
suicide needs development.

4. Care of the Mentally Ill Prisoner
a. The Scope of Mental Illness in Alaska and Resources for Treatment
in the Department of Corrections
The Department of Corrections has become the primary provider of care to the mentally
ill in Alaska.313
Despite the enormous population of the mentally ill in custody, relatively few positions are
provided for dedicated mental health professionals inside the Department.314 As a consequence, not a single prisoner reported getting regular group or individual counseling. In
combination with the failure to catch many mentally ill prisoners at the time of admission,
the level of treatment provided raises constitutional concerns. In a District of Columbia
case, a large jail employing only two psychologists who could not even properly screen
incoming inmates and could not provide more than basic emergency psychiatric care was
found to be so understaffed as to violate the Constitution.315

312	 The circumstances and substance of the prisoner interviews raise concerns about their efficacy. When interviews
between a prisoner and the mental health staff occur, they tend to be brief and the scope of the interviews limited.
The interviews are also typically conducted through an opening in the cell door, typically the meal slot, which denies
patient privacy and calls into question the utility of the visits. It is possible that some prisoners actually received these
visits from mental health counselors and, not recognizing these interviews as treatment, reported that they received
no treatment.
313	 The number of beds available for mental health treatment in Alaska outside the prison system has declined from 220
beds to 76 in 2006. Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections,
at 2.
314	 The proposed 2010 budget for the Department of Corrections requests funding for 41 mental health professionals – including 2 forensic psychologists, 30 mental health clinicians, 7 mental health nurses, 6 psychological counselors, and
one social worker. Six of those providers work in the community, not at a prison.
315	 Inmates of Occoquan v. Barry, 717 F. Supp. 854, 863 (D.D.C. 1989) (“Any initial screening that occurs is at the D.C. Jail
and this is not done by mental health professionals. [A jail psychologist] believes that there is a high probability that
there are people in need of mental health services at Occoquan that no one knows about due to the lack of screening.”)
(citations omitted); id. (indicating that one of the two psychologists was “struggling to give merely emergency service”).

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Prisoners suffering in acute psychiatric crisis are housed primarily at the Mental Health
Unit at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and “Mike Mod” at the Anchorage Correctional
Complex, which hold a maximum of 46 prisoners. Three sub acute units house prisoners
with special mental health needs at Spring Creek, Palmer, and Hiland Mountain, for a total of 105 sub acute beds. These facilities have on-duty mental health staff and provide an
environment where mentally ill prisoners can feel safe and not worry about being attacked
by other prisoners. About 1,400 to 1,500316 prisoners
in Alaska have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

A recent report from the
Department of Corrections
to the Alaska Mental Health
Board described the acute
care units as “almost always
at capacity and too often
over capacity,” a crowded
condition which turned
the treatment units “into
stabilization units.”

The mental health staff in Alaska is primarily employed to staff the two acute modules at Hiland
Mountain and the Anchorage Complex – 11 mental health nurses, a dual-diagnosis counselor, two
psychiatrists, and an advanced nurse practitioner
provide care at the two facilities. In addition, four
clinicians provide care exclusively at “Mike Mod” in
Anchorage, while three clinicians at Hiland Mountain
serve both the acute unit and the rest of the facility.
At Palmer317 and Spring Creek, two and four clinicians, respectively, provide care to the prisoners in
the sub acute unit as well as the rest of the population. The remaining facilities without an acute or sub
acute unit have small staffs of clinicians to manage
the prisoners with mental health problems at the local facility: three clinicians at Anchorage Jail, two at
Wildwood, one each at Lemon Creek, Cook Inlet Pretrial (for the prisoners not in “Mike
Mod”), Fairbanks, and Yukon-Kuskokwim (part-time only). Anvil Mountain and Ketchikan
have no regular mental health staff, although, as at other facilities, prisoners can have
24-hour a day telemedicine consults with a psychiatrist in Anchorage or can get services
from contract providers in local hospitals as needed.
Given the scope of the mental health problems in the Alaska prison system where approximately one in three prisoners have been diagnosed with a mental illness and the
limitations of acute and sub acute care to 150 beds, only eight clinicians are tasked with
the care of the population outside acute and sub acute beds at six institutions; a further 11
clinicians are jointly assigned to care for the prisoners on sub acute units and the general

316	 While true measures of the degree of mental illness in the prison system are challenging to reconstruct, common estimated figures for the mentally ill in Alaska prisons have run around 34%, meaning that one in every three prisoners
suffers from a mental illness. Alaska Judicial Council, Alaska Felony Process: 1999, at 66; Alaska Mental Health Trust,
A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 8. One-third of the prison population in Alaska
at any one time would be about 1,400, counting out-of-state prisoners, since the total prison population counting
prisoners in and out of state rarely drops below 4,200. Since Red Rock Correctional Center in Arizona does not accept
seriously mentally ill individuals, most mentally ill prisoners will be incarcerated in Alaska.
317	 The clinicians at Palmer also serve the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility.

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population at four institutions. Two psychiatrists and an advanced nurse practitioner are
responsible for supervision of the acute care modules, but provide some care for prisoners in general population.
No matter how competent and committed the mental health staff of the Department may
be, the limited resources for provision of mental health care cannot meet the needs of
1,400 or more prisoners diagnosed with mental illnesses.318 The responsibilities of these
providers include evaluations of prisoners with signs of mental illness, crisis intervention,
group and individual therapy, and release and treatment planning, for the 1,200 or more
mentally ill prisoners not in the acute or sub acute units. What is hard to measure is how
hard it is to keep up with the burdens of the position.319 Professionals familiar with the
mental health system in the facilities indicate that resources are inadequate for meeting
the needs of mentally ill prisoners.320 Particularly, the lack of counseling and sub acute
care has been targeted as areas of concern.321 A recent report from the Department of
Corrections to the Alaska Mental Health Board described the acute care units as “almost always at capacity and too often over capacity,” a crowded condition which turned
the treatment units “into stabilization units.”322 The sub acute units were described as
constantly full.323 The reports of prisoners interviewed for this report corroborate these
reported gaps in treatment. Prisoners who requested talk therapy sessions reported being unambiguously told, “We don’t do that here.” Other prisoners who reported serious
mental health problems described being unable to obtain care or being refused further
treatment after a brief consultation. Since basic statistics about how many prisoners in
general population are receiving care and of what kind are either not tracked or, if tracked,
were not relayed to the ACLU of Alaska after request, it is difficult to assess the adequacy
of the staffing at these facilities in any other way.
The resource and treatment gap within the prison does not compare to the resource and
treatment gap on the other side of the prison gates. Between 1990 and 2000, the number

318	 In a one day census, the Mental Health Trust found 1,524 prisoners diagnosed with a mental illness in custody on June
30, 2006. Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 10.
319	 The American Psychiatric Association suggests a ratio of one psychiatrist to 150 patients receiving psychiatric medication. Human Rights Watch, Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness, at 95 (2003) available at http://
www.hrw.org/en/reports/2003/10/21/ill-equipped. Experts in a Washington case recommended a ratio of one psychiatrist for every 200 prisoners with outpatient-level needs, one supervisor psychologist for each institution, one mental
health professional for every 75 seriously mentally ill prisoners, and one mental health nurse for every 100 patients. Id.
The Alaska prison system has a single psychiatrist for all prisoners in the system.
320	 “The consensus among professionals working with the mentally ill inmate population is that in Alaska, as elsewhere,
staffing and resources are inadequate to meet the needs of this population.” Moras, Antonia, Mentally Ill Inmates in
Alaska Prisons, 21 UAA Justice Forum 3 (Spring 2004).
321	 “There are not enough sub-acute-care units, and there is little counseling available.” Id.
322	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Report to the Alaska Mental Health Board & Advisory Board on Alcohol and Drug
Abuse, October 19, 2009.
323	 Id.

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of inpatient beds for mental health treatment in Alaska declined from 220 to 79.324 In many
cases, newly-released prisoners struggle on release because they lack options for continuing mental health care outside the prison. For instance, the prisoners released from
Anchorage Correctional Complex had the greatest unmet psychiatric needs of prisoners
released from any facility in the state, because the volume of those in need of care so far
outstripped the resources for care in Anchorage.325 The Department of Corrections does
have six dedicated mental health counselors managing 75-80 mentally ill probationers and
parolees in the community, a successful program which reduces recidivism for the participants.326 The DOC also works in conjunction with the court system and the Department
of Health and Social Services to administer the highly successful mental health courts in
Anchorage and Palmer, with a total caseload of 120 individuals under supervision.327 State
resources dedicated to programs emulating these successful options are sorely needed
for improved access to psychiatric treatment throughout the state to treat parolees and
probationers outside the prison system.
b. Refusal of Psychiatric Medications
In any individual case, a provider may have a good reason to terminate an ongoing course
of medication. Concerns about the efficacy of the treatment, potential for abuse or addiction to the substance, side-effects, and developed tolerance might prompt a provider to
end the course of medication. While isolated occurrences of such suspension might be
fully consistent with good practice, consistent prisoner reports of the suspension of psychiatric medications upon admission raise concerns. Of the 53 prisoners interviewed who
reported having a mental illness, 30 (56% of those reporting a mental illness) stated that
they were no longer receiving their medications in prison. Some of the prisoner reports
may also be misleading: some prisoners may be recalling the nature of the prescription incorrectly, or may have stopped taking medications some time before admission
to the prison, or may otherwise be distorting their history of psychiatric treatment. The
Department states that it makes appropriate independent clinical judgments in each case.
While the ACLU of Alaska respects the independent judgment of corrections employees,
reports that more than half of all prisoners had their medication terminated raise concern
and bear future investigation.
Raw pharmacy data provided by the Department of Corrections indicated that Alaska
prisoners received the equivalent of 467 year-long antidepressant prescriptions from

324	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 2.
325	 Id. at 48.
326	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Report to the Alaska Mental Health Board & Advisory Board on Alcohol and Drug
Abuse, October 19, 2009
327	 Id.

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November of 2008 through October 2009.328 The equivalent of 610 year-long mood stabilizer prescriptions – including drugs like lithium used to stabilize prisoners with bipolar
disorder – were provided during the same period.329 The equivalent of 386 year-long psychotropic prescriptions – typically including antipsychotic medications – were provided to
prisoners during that same period.330 It is unclear how many prisoners receive medications from more than one group of psychiatric medications, so the ACLU of Alaska cannot
report how many individual prisoners are receiving medications at any one time. Neither
is there a clear baseline of how many prisoners should be taking psychiatric medications.
In order to examine the question more carefully, a thorough review of medical and psychiatric records would have to be conducted.
Several prisoners reported the immediate termination of psychiatric medications on admission to the prison system. Patients taking the most common antidepressants should
be weaned off the medication, rather than quitting the medication suddenly.331 The
Department contends that medications requiring “weaning” are titrated appropriately. If
prisoners are serving time in custody without proper medication and other forms of treatment, this could put prisoners at risk of self-harm, of harming others, of panic attacks,
and of anxiety- and stress-related reactions, and would violate international standards
concerning the treatment of the mentally ill and the responsibilities of medical officers to
improve the mental health of prisoners.
Moreover, in part due to the improper or delayed health examinations at admission, denial
of psychiatric medications often occurs during the prisoner’s arrival at the prison – a time
of exceptionally high stress, usually in the face of some lengthy and unknown period of incarceration. The prisoner’s main defense against anxiety and depression is taken away at
a time when the prisoner’s susceptibility to anxiety and depression is the highest. Sudden
denial of medication at the chaotic time of admission to a jail may destabilize suicidal or
other mentally ill prisoners.

328	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Prescription Database [printed 11/4/09] (showing 170,754.5 pills prescribed to prisoners from the pharmacy in the November 2008 to October 2009). 170,754.5 divided by 365 yields the equivalent of
roughly 467 year-long prescriptions – assuming that each prisoner received a single tablet as a daily dose.
329	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Prescription Database [printed 11/4/09] (showing 222,954.5 mood stabilizer pills
prescribed to prisoners from the pharmacy in the November 2008 to October 2009). 222,964.5 divided by 365 yields the
equivalent of roughly 610 year-long prescriptions – assuming that each prisoner received a single tablet as a daily dose.
330	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Prescription Database [printed 11/4/09] (showing 140,999 psychotropic pills prescribed to prisoners from the pharmacy in the November 2008 to October 2009). 140,999 divided by 365 yields the
equivalent of roughly 386 year-long prescriptions – assuming that each prisoner received a single tablet as a daily dose.
331	 Rosenbaum et al., Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Discontinuation Syndrome: A Randomized Clinical Trial, 15
Biological Psychology 77 (1998) (showing sudden interruption of SSRI treatment caused negative psychological effects in
patients).

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c. Inadequate Mental Health Resources and the Cycle of Mental Illness
The failure to provide adequate or appropriate care for prisoners with mental illness or
even to identify those prisoners with serious mental illness puts the functioning of the
prison system and the community at risk. Prisoners with serious mental illness will struggle to adapt to prison life under the best of circumstances. In the absence of treatment,
they may disrupt prison life by arguing with other prisoners, shouting, making excessive
noise, confronting guards, or committing other disruptive acts. The outcome of this behavior is frequently ostracism or abuse from other prisoners and discipline or violence
from guards and staff. Prisoners with mental illnesses who suffer abuse from other prisoners will feel more agitated and become more disruptive.332 Prisoners with mental illnesses who confront guards will often be disciplined by placement in segregation, where
the closed environment and lack of human contact will further exacerbate symptoms of
mental illness, engendering more and more anxiety and more and more disruptive behavior.333 Some prisoners will then spiral into absolutely antisocial behavior, throwing feces or
taking off their clothing, which will extend their time spent in segregation. Some prisoners
will spend years in this downward spiral and ultimately leave prison in far worse condition
than how they entered it.334 They will suck up prison resources, agitate other prisoners
with their behavior, and have a strong tendency to reoffend on release. Far too many prisoners in Alaska languish in segregation units with mental illnesses that grow worse and
worse with each passing day.
The NCCHC requires that prisoners in extreme isolation get daily observation by medical
staff and at least weekly observation by mental health staff, regardless of whether the
prisoner has a diagnosed mental illness.335 The Department reports the implementation
of a pilot project to conduct weekly rounds at Anchorage Correctional Complex; expanding
this project to detect the development of mental illness in segregation would be a laudable
step to comply with national norms.
No one’s interests are served by fostering this cycle of destruction: not the prison’s, not
society’s, not the other prisoners’, and certainly not those of the prisoner with mental
332	 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Dep’t of Justice, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates (Sept. 2006) (showing
that 58% of mentally ill state prisoners violated facility rules, while only 43% of non-mentally ill prisoners violated facility rules; 20% of mentally ill state prisoners had been injured in a fight, while only 10% of non-mentally ill prisoners
were injured in a fight).
333	 National Institute of Corrections, United States Department of Justice, Effective Prison Mental Health Services: Guidelines
to Expand and Improve Treatment, at 41 (2004) (“Solitary confinement or extended segregation may cause extreme stress
for a mentally ill person and can promote decompensation and exacerbate the illness.”)
334	 See, e.g., Inmates of Occoquan, 717 F.Supp. at 863(quoting a jail psychologist who indicated that confining the mentally
ill to segregation units left prisoners “abandoned to their hallucinations and their delusions ... it makes the illness
more difficult to treat, in some cases may make it untreatable”); id. (quoting a jail psychologist who indicated that it was
“inappropriate and unacceptable from a professional viewpoint to house people with serious mental illnesses” on the
segregation unit where prisoners “are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day with no social contact and they receive no
treatment except for medication and an occasional visit from the psychologist”).
335	 National Commission on Correctional Health Care, Standards for Health Services in Jails, at 75 (2008).

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illness. The best way to treat prisoners with mental illness while in custody is not to put
them in custody at all. This is why diversionary programs like mental health courts are the
best practice for accused individuals with mental illnesses. Therapeutic courts have had
great success in preventing recidivism at a cost-savings to the justice system.336 When
prisoners with mental illnesses are put in custody, they should be housed in an open
housing unit dedicated to prisoners with mental illnesses, with psychiatric staff in the unit
who understand the course of a mental illness, in which prisoners live in a community, not
in segregation cells.

iii. Recommendations by the ACLU of Alaska on Detection and Treatment
of Mental Illness
In order to provide the care to which mentally ill prisoners are entitled under international, federal, and Alaska law, the ACLU of Alaska recommends that the Department of
Corrections ought to:
1.	 Fully assess inmates upon admission, using a clinically-tested form, taking into
consideration each inmate’s current health status, medical, mental health and
substance abuse history, and medications the inmate is currently taking, in order
to make proper decisions regarding the inmate’s care and housing;
2.	 Write clear and precise policy instructions on the use of mental health treatment,
care, and segregation, and enforce these instructions, in keeping with the guidelines set forth by the APA and the NCCHC and other standard setting bodies;
3.	 Provide unique yet non-stigmatizing treatment, facilities, and areas within facilities staffed by trained psychiatrists and designated for inmates facing mental
health issues, sufficient to manage the large population of mentally ill prisoners in
Alaska;
4.	 Work with community mental health care providers so that mental health care,
especially prescribed medications, for new prisoners can be coordinated with their
earlier providers, and so that prisoners awaiting release can transition easily to
mental health providers in their own community;
5.	 Review the status of prisoners who have spent three months or more in segregation units to determine if they suffer from serious mental illness and, if so, to develop a treatment plan to prevent return to segregation; and

336	 In an early evaluation of the efficacy of the Anchorage Mental Health Court, only one of 49 participants had been
arrested for a new felony charge, and only 17 had been arrested for a misdemeanor, for an overall 39% recidivism
rate. Goldkamp, John S. & Irons-Guynn, Cheryl, Bureau of Justice Assistance, The Anchorage Mental Health Court in
Emerging Judicial Strategies for the Mentally Ill in the Criminal Caseload: Mental Health Courts in Fort Lauderdale, Seattle,
San Bernardino, and Anchorage available at http://www.ncjrs.org/html/bja/mentalhealth/chap4.html. This recidivism rate
is dramatically less than the 65% indicated in the Alaska Judicial Council’s recidivism study. Alaska Judicial Council,
Recidivism in Alaska, at 24. A more comprehensive review of the mental health court in Anchorage found that participation in mental health court reduced the period of time spent in custody, the number of arrests, and the number of admissions to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. Alaska Judicial Council, Court Coordinated Resources Project Evaluation
Report available at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/CRPReport.pdf.

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6.	 Work with mental health facilities like the Alaska Psychiatric Institute to provide
care for the prisoners most in need of mental health care and least suited for life
inside a correctional institution.
The ACLU of Alaska recommends that the legislature ought to:
1. 	 Promote diversionary programs and treatment courts that foster healthy living in
the community for offenders with mental illness, rather than expensive incarceration; and
2.	 Fund community mental health care programs to serve released prisoners and offenders in the community, as well as to prevent criminality in other individuals with
mental illnesses.

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E. Rehabilitation in the Alaska Department of Corrections
i. Introduction
The prisoners’ day will begin at six in the morning in winter and at five
in summer. They will work for nine hours a day throughout the year. Two
hours a day will be devoted to instruction. Work and the day will end at nine
o’clock in the winter and eight in the summer. . . . At twenty minutes to
eleven… the prisoners form into ranks and proceed in divisions into the
school. The class lasts two hours and consists alternately of reading, writing, drawing, and arithmetic. . . . At half-past seven in the summer and
half-past eight in the winter, the prisoners must be back in their cells. . .
. The cell doors are closed and the supervisors go the rounds in the corridors, to ensure order and silence.
	

Léon Faucher, De la réforme des prisons, 1838.337

Alaska’s correctional system has a long history of underfunding rehabilitative programming. Sadly, the underfunding frequently took place in the face of strong expert opinions that funding needed to be increased. In 2000, the University of Alaska Justice Center
pointed out that the just under one million dollar budget for rehabilitative programming
had not increased in eight years, to the detriment of the rehabilitative programs.338 In 2001,
the Department of Corrections sponsored its own study to gauge the scope of substance
abuse problems; the study revealed enormous problems with substance abuse among the
prison population, showing that 79% of all prisoners surveyed reported active addiction
to alcohol or a drug within 12 months of their date of incarceration.339 Despite the obvious problem of substance abuse in Alaska and the expert opinion that the rehabilitation
budget should be expanded, the Department of Corrections instead requested that the

337	 Faucher, Léon, De la Réforme des Prisons, 1838, quoted in Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,
1991.
338	 University of Alaska at Anchorage Justice Center, The Alaska Department of Corrections: The Drug Treatment Picture, 17
Justice Forum 1, Spring 2000.
339	 North Charles Research and Planning Group, Substance Abuse Treatment Needs of Alaska’s Newly Incarcerated
Prisoner Population Prior to Incarceration: Final Report, at 60, available at http://www.hss.state.ak.us/press/pdfs/akprisonerfinalreport.pdf.

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Uncuffed [© iStockphoto.com/Paige Foster]

legislature cut the rehabilitation budget to almost nothing in 2003.340
However, under the new administration, the Department of Corrections has taken heed
of the expert opinions and studies – including a recent ISER study showing that the state
could save $300 million over the next 20 years by funding rehabilitative programs and
other social services shown to prevent crime341 – and renewed its efforts to rehabilitate
prisoners. The Department has sought over $2 million in funding over the last two years to
initiate rehabilitative programs at numerous facilities throughout the state. Some of these
programs have already begun; others are planned. This new direction deserves commendation. However, given prior correctional policies, chronicling the negative effects of the
past policy serves as an important reminder of the costs and effects of not providing these
services. This report will seek to recognize ongoing efforts to improve rehabilitation, as
well as to document the effects of prior policies.
340	 FY2004 Governor’s Proposed Budget, Department of Corrections, at 6 (“$1,163,200.00 million of substance abuse
programs currently offered by the department will be curtailed with the emphasis placed on facilitating the use of
program offerings from community based health organizations, Native Health providers, and 12 step programs.”)
available at http://www.gov.state.ak.us/omb/04_OMB/budget/DOC/comp1972.pdf. This constituted almost the whole
state-funded budget for substance abuse treatment in Alaska correctional facilities, as the RSAT programs were
heavily subsidized by the federal government. Bureau of Justice Assistance, Department of Justice, Program Update:
Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for State Prisoners (RSAT) Program available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/206269.pdf. The Department has requested partial restoration of $500,000 of the original substance abuse
funding. FY2010 Governor’s Proposed Budget, Department of Corrections, Inmate Health Care available at http://gov.
state.ak.us/omb/10_omb/budget/DOC/comp705.pdf.
341	 Martin, Stephanie and Colt, Stephen, The Cost of Crime: Could The State Reduce Future Crime and Save Money by
Expanding Education and Treatment Programs? available at http://www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/Publications/researchsumm/RS_71.pdf (projecting that modest spending on rehabilitative programs could decrease the future prison population and save more than $300 million over the next 20 years).

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In meeting with prisoners who had previously been incarcerated prior to the institution of the new programs,
prisoners regularly reported being released right to the
streets from a prior stint in custody with no job, no place
to live, no way to get medical care, no access to substance
abuse treatment. Some prisoners were released to belowzero weather in the middle of winter in Alaska wearing
only a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Numerous prisoners
told stories of going directly from the prison doors to a
homeless shelter. Others reported living on the streets or
in abandoned cars immediately after their release. Many
prisoners reported returning to substance abuse the same
day or the same week as they were released from custody.
Most prisoners have a substance abuse problem of some
sort, thus substance abuse programs should be available
at all facilities.

Numerous prisoners
told stories of going
directly from the prison
doors to a homeless
shelter. Others reported
living on the streets
or in abandoned cars
immediately after their
release.

Not only is the reinstitution of the rehabilitative programs for prisoners in custody the best
way to prevent future victimization, an excellent way to save money on corrections costs,
and the right thing to do for the prisoners, the provision of this programming fulfills an
important legal obligation of the state. Under the Alaska Constitution, the criminal justice
system is based in part on the principle of reformation, which has been interpreted as
granting incarcerated inmates the fundamental right to access rehabilitative programs.342
Through rehabilitation, prisoners have the means to become productive members of society upon their release. The Alaska Constitution places this right to rehabilitation alongside
the expressed goals of retributive punishment and public safety. Rehabilitation programs
not only benefit prisoners themselves, but also serve to protect the public by treating
conditions that cause crime. Leaving unaddressed the underlying societal and individual
sources of crime, such as substance abuse and addiction, mental illness, and joblessness,
is both counter to Alaska’s Constitution and to international law standards.

ii. Legal Standards on Rehabilitative Programs
1. International Standards
Like the Alaska Constitution, international law standards recognize rehabilitation as a
fundamental goal of incarceration and an important state responsibility. The International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides that the primary objective of pris-

342	 Smith v. State, 790 P.2d 1352, 1354 (Alaska 1990); Abraham v. Alaska, 585 P.2d 526, 531 (Alaska 1978).

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

oner treatment is reformation and social rehabilitation.343 The Standard Minimum Rules
recognize that while imprisonment serves to protect society against crime, this goal can
only be achieved if the period of imprisonment is used to ensure that the offender is willing
and able to lead a law-abiding and self-supporting life upon return to society.344 Similarly,
the American Convention states that punishments consisting of deprivation of liberty have
as the essential aim the reform and social readaptation of the prisoners.345
The international standards cited above recognize the need for discipline and order in
prisons346 but limit disciplinary restrictions to those “necessary for safe custody and wellordered community life.”347 Creating the space and security for community life is particularly important in facilitating rehabilitation and preparing prisoners for reentry to the
community. In recognition of this objective, the Standard Minimum Rules state that the
prison should seek to minimize any differences between prison life and life at liberty which
may diminish the responsibility or dignity of prisoners as human beings.348 The Standard
Minimum Rules further provide that institutions, in order to achieve rehabilitation and
reintegration, should use “all the remedial, educational, moral, and spiritual forces and
forms of assistance which are available and appropriate, and should seek to apply them
according to the individual treatment needs of the prisoners.”349 In recognition of the
wide-ranging responsibilities implied by the right to rehabilitation, the Standard Minimum
Rules recommend that the prison personnel include “a sufficient number of specialists

343	 ICCPR, Art. 10.3 (“The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be
their reformation and social rehabilitation. Juvenile offenders shall be segregated from adults and be accorded treatment appropriate to their age and legal status.”). See also European Prison Rules, Art. 6 (“All detention shall be managed so as to facilitate the reintegration into free society of persons who have been deprived of their liberty.”).
344	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 58.
345	 American Convention on Human Rights, Art. 5(6). See also Garcia-Asto and Ramirez-Rojas v. Peru, Inter-American
Court of Human Rights, (Nov. 2005), at para. 223 (finding that detention conditions were contrary to the essential aim
of imprisonment sanctions, which is the reform and social adaptation of prisoners). As previously noted, the United
States has signed, but not ratified, the American Convention and is not legally bound by its provisions. The Convention,
however, reflects international standards upheld by the majority of member states in the Organization of American
States (OAS), to which the United States also belongs. In addition, as a signatory to the American Convention, the
United States has an obligation not to defeat the object and purpose of the Convention. Vienna Convention on the Law
of Treaties, Article 18(a). As such, an examination of U.S. standards under the Convention is appropriate.
346	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 27. See also Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, Principle 4 (“The responsibility of prisons for the custody of prisoners and for the protection of society against crime shall be discharged in
keeping with a State’s other social objectives and its fundamental responsibilities for promoting the well-being and
development of all members of society.”); European Prison Rules, Art. 49 (“Good order in prison shall be maintained
by taking into account the requirements of security, safety and discipline, while also providing prisoners with living
conditions which respect human dignity and offering them a full program of activities in accordance with Rule 25.”).
347	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 27.
348	 Id., Art. 60.1. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 5 (“Life in prison shall approximate as closely as possible the
positive aspects of life in the community.”). As such, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that prohibiting
prisoners from working, reading, going outside, and receiving visitors amounted to “psychological torture.” Miguel
Castro-Castro Prison v. Peru, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, para. 328 (Nov. 2006) (finding that the totality of
conditions constituted physical and psychological torture in violation of Article 5(2) of the American Convention).
349	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 59.1.

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such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers,350 teachers and trade instructors”
to apply the above forms of assistance.351 As international human rights standards emphasize, the central aim of incarceration is rehabilitation, and prisons should follow this
mandate accordingly.

2. Domestic Standards
The primary legal authority for treatment programs comes from the Alaska Constitution.352
The federal constitution does not guarantee the right to rehabilitative programs to adult
offenders,353 except as they are a natural consequent of a medical need (for instance, in
response to a medical crisis resulting from drug or alcohol withdrawal).354 The Alaska
Constitution by contrast guarantees that prisoners in custody have access to all sorts
of rehabilitative programs, including basic substance abuse programming, visitation, and
vocational training.355

iii. Rehabilitation in the Alaska Prison System
1. Substance Abuse Treatment
Prisoners in Alaska suffer from a variety of treatable social problems. Substance abuse
is the most prevalent. The Alaska Judicial Council found that about two-thirds of all individuals convicted of a felony in Alaska had an alcohol problem and approximately half
had a drug problem.356 The study further found that more than a third of the persons convicted of a felony were actively under the influence of alcohol at the time of the offense.357
According to a 2001 study by the Department of Corrections, over 90% of all prisoners
surveyed reported having a substance abuse problem at some point in their lives.358 79%
of those prisoners reported an active substance abuse problem within 12 months of their

350	 According to the Rules, States should provide social workers at each institution; the role of social workers is to assist
prisoners in “maintaining and improving all desirable relations of a prisoner with his family and with valuable social
agencies,” emphasizing the prisoner’s continuing role with the greater community. Id., Art. 61.
351	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 49.1.
352	 Alaska Const., Art I, sec. 12
353	 Marshall v. U.S., 414 U.S. 417, 421 (1974); Battle v. Anderson, 564 F.2d 388, 403 (10th Cir. 1977).
354	 Dawson v. Kendrick, 527 F.Supp. 1252, 1272-73 (D. W. Va. 1981)
355	 Abraham v. Alaska, 585 P.2d 526, 531 (alcohol treatment); Ferguson v. Dep’t of Corr., 816 P.2d 134, 140 (Alaska 1991)
(vocational program); Brandon v. Dep’t of Corr., 938 P.2d 1029, 1032 (family visitation).
356	 Alaska Judicial Council, Alaska Felony Process: 1999, at 10.
357	 Alaska Judicial Council, Alaska Felony Process: 1999, at 65.
358	 North Charles Research and Planning Group, Substance Abuse Treatment Needs of Alaska’s Newly Incarcerated
Prisoner Population Prior to Incarceration: Final Report, at viii.

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most recent arrests.359
The nexus of substance abuse with incarceration is enormous. Over 600 prisoners in the
Alaska prison system are in custody simply for drug or alcohol offenses like drug possession or driving while intoxicated.360 More than 700 prisoners are in custody for violations
of probation or parole.361 In the course of interviewing prisoners, almost every single prisoner who had been returned to prison simply for violating the terms of probation or parole
had violated the probation or parole by relapsing into a drug or alcohol addiction. These
prisoners were either charged with directly violating the prohibition on alcohol or drug
use, or charged with failure to report to the assigned probation or parole officer, which is
a common result of substance abuse.
From 2003 to 2007, the lack of sustained, quality treatment programs for prisoners had
wide-ranging implications for the community as a whole. Failure to provide programming
in the prisons and jails means that a large population returns to their communities untreated and are likely to return to prison at some point. In Alaska, two-thirds of all prisoners released from custody return to prison within three years, either for violation of the
terms of probation or parole, or on new charges.362 In the survey for this report, 53% of
re-offenders had substance abuse problems. Absent public substance abuse programs in
the community, the prison is one of the most important sites for identifying and treating
substance abuse problems to control recidivism and promote individual and community
health.
Placing all of the liability at the foot of the corrections system would be unfair. Throughout
the state of Alaska, the availability of substance abuse treatment programs has declined
outside the prison walls as well. The number of substance abuse treatment facilities in
Alaska declined from 87 in 2002 to 70 in 2006.363 As with many other social problems described in this report, the legislature should make serious efforts, not only to rehabilitate
prisoners, but to establish services available in the community – ones which can handle
newly released prisoners as well as ordinary members of the community.
The survey conducted for this report illustrates the high number of persons in Alaska jails
and prisons with substance abuse problems. A significant number of prisoners in Alaska
had problems with substance abuse prior to incarceration. 122 of 151 prisoners (or approximately 75%) stated that they had substance abuse problems; 43 of the 122 reporting
359	 North Charles Research and Planning Group, Substance Abuse Treatment Needs of Alaska’s Newly Incarcerated
Prisoner Population Prior to Incarceration: Final Report, at viii.
360	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Offender Profile 2008, available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/admin/docs/profile2008final.pdf.
361	 Id.
362	 Alaska Judicial Council, Recidivism in Alaska, at11.
363	 Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health, “States in Brief: Alaska” (2009) at 2, available at http://
www.samhsa.gov/StatesInBrief/2009/ALASKA_508.pdf.

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a history of substance abuse said they had received treatment during their current or prior
periods of incarceration. 59 of those interviewed further noted that they had been arrested
for an alcohol or drug-related crime (for example, possession of a narcotic, DWI, selling
drugs) at some point in their lives.
The prisons, which house a large population with long-term substance abuse issues, also
failed to provide adequate rehabilitative treatment and care. Until this year, most institutions in Alaska held only non-therapeutic programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous
groups, if they offer any programs at all. Fewer than half of all prisoners surveyed for this
report who reported a substance abuse problem indicated that they had ever received substance abuse treatment while incarcerated. In addition, only 5 of the prisoners who said
they had past or on-going substance abuse problems reported that they were released
into an inpatient substance abuse treatment program after prison. 20 of the prisoners
reported that they were released into a halfway house, and everyone else reported receiving no assistance whatsoever after release. One inmate reported that he was unable to
receive court-ordered treatment during his sentence because no services were available.
For years, the Department of Corrections let untreated individuals out on the streets with
serious untreated substance abuse problems. The failure to treat these individuals played
a major role in the increase in prison population since 2002, particularly in the population of those in custody for probation and parole violations. To combat this problem, the
Department has sought funding for several new programs. Some of these programs have
begun to take shape; others remain in the planning and implementation stage. One important program, the Life Skills Substance Abuse Treatment program, has recently begun implementation at four facilities, and the Department is taking bids to open a fifth
program.364 Several other programs to address alcohol and drug addiction are planned at
other facilities and for released inmates, including another substance abuse treatment
program planned for late 2009 at Palmer Correctional Center, a substance abuse assessment program for the Anchorage Complex, and several outpatient programs in Anchorage
and Fairbanks for released prisoners and probationers. The Department of Corrections
supplied a full description of the planned and existing programs, attached here as a
sidebar.
Within the prison system, the only therapeutic-level treatment available between 2003
and 2008 consisted of two residential substance abuse treatment programs (RSAT): one
for women at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River and the other for men at
Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai. The total bed space for the two programs was just
above 100. Smaller-scale substance abuse programs were available for certain prisoners
364	 State of Alaska, Request for Proposals: 2010-2000-8757, LSSAT-AMCC (Nome) at 22 (seeking bids for contractors
to provide services at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome and indicating the program has begun in Juneau,
Bethel, Seward, and Fairbanks) available at http://notes5.state.ak.us/pn/pubnotic.nsf/0/1322a586d6b28d7c892575d10
0760275/$FILE/RFP+2010-2000-8757+Substance+Abuse+Treatment+Program+Services,+Nome,+Alaska.pdf.

(Continues on page 97)

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Developing Rehabilitative Programs in Alaska
DOC is currently in the process of developing a needs assessment (LSI-R and other assessment
screening instruments) that will cover the areas of:
1.	
2.	
3.	
4.	
5.	
6.	
7.	

Substance Abuse
Anger Management
Criminal Thinking
Education
Vocational Interests
Sexual Deviancy issues, and
Re-Entry

This assessment is the foundation for developing an Offender Management Plan which will be used,
in part, to guide intervention and program referrals to the following programs:
Substance Abuse: All programs adhere to the ASAM, American Society of Addiction Medicine criteria.
79% of offenders arrested had an active substance abuse problem during the 12 months preceding
their arrest.1
	

3- Level 3: 6 month inpatient programs
-HMCC, WWC, and Hudson Correctional Facility.

	

5- Level 2: 3-4 month institutional intensive out-patient programs
-YKCC, AMCC, FCC, LCC and SCC.

	

2- Level 2: 3-4 month Community Residential Center intensive out-patient programs
-North Star in Fairbanks and Akeela for the Anchorage-area CRCs.

All of these programs have aftercare components.
	

Level 1: 1 month educational program with assessment and referral to additional
treatment if needed.
-PCC

	

2-assessment and referral programs
-ACC and MSPT

	

Anger Management: This is a 12 week program that covers the areas of hostility, aggressiveness,
temperament, violence, and cognitions favorable to violent behavior. This program is part of our substance abuse curriculum, as a very high percentage of people with substance abuse issues also have
anger issues. It will also be offered as a standalone program that meets court-ordered requirements

1	

North Charles Research and Planning Group, Substance Abuse Treatment Needs of Alaska’s Newly Incarcerated
Prisoner Population Prior to Incarceration: Final Report, at viii., 2007

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(individualized treatment plans and discharge summaries) in all DOC facilities.
48 week Offender Treatment program:
	
4 phases:
	
1. Anger Management
	
2. Criminal Thinking Errors
	
3. Moral Reasoning, and
	
4. Rational Problem Solving and Relapse Prevention
This program covers the areas of criminal thinking, socialization, poor problem solving, interpersonal
relationship issues, risk, talking behavior and Anger Management. It is currently available in seven
facilities, ACC, SCC, WWC, FCC, LCC, PCC and HMCC, with plans to implement in 4 additional facilities
by the end of the year. (AMCC, YKCC, KCC and the Hudson Community Correctional Center).
Criminal Attitudes Program or CAP: A comprehensive cognitive-behavioral program that focuses
specifically on the attitudes, values, beliefs and rationalizations conducive to criminality. It is a 22
session program that will be available in all 13 institutions through the Education department by year
end.
Parenting: Inside/Out Dads: A program for incarcerated fathers. This is a 12 session program that
provides practical and innovative ways to help overcome the physical and psychological challenges
that incarcerated fathers face both inside and out of prison. This program is offered in 12 of Alaska’s
facilities through the Education department. HMCC currently offers the Active Parenting Today program for the female offenders. Both programs are designed to diminish intergenerational criminality.
Sex Offender Treatment: Opening in early 2010, this is an 18 month intensive inpatient treatment
program located at LCC. The LCC program is long term and treats multi-custody offenders.
The Bethel Tundra Center program is a shorter term community based sexual offender program for
released offenders that operates in a Community Residential Center.
There are several out-patient sex offender management programs for released offenders that include
assessment, treatment, supervision and polygraph testing at six locations around the state.
Education:
GED/ABE Vocational Certification/Training and Re-Entry Programming in all 13 facilities.
Vocational Rehabilitation:
DOC currently provides vocational training programs that provide inmates certifications upon completion. The Department intends to expand the number and availability of these programs.
	
Re-Entry Program: This program is designed to be available for all offenders who are within 18
months of release. The program will focus on employment skills, developing housing options, family
reunification, and sober support. Specific program components will consist of the Federal Bureau of
Prisons Re-Entry Survival Program, the Department of Labor Job Preparedness Program, C.A.P., and
Parenting. It is currently available at SCC and under development for the remainder of our facilities.

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(Continues from page 94)
at Palmer, Spring Creek, Yukon-Kuskokwim, and the Hudson Correctional Facility in
Colorado. Given these limited options for treatment, less than 10% of the Alaska prison population had access to substance abuse treatment in a prison population, through
the RSAT program,365 while close to 80% of the prisoners has substance abuse problems.
Several prisoners at Hiland (where 22 out of 28 prisoners interviewed said they had substance abuse problems) highlighted that RSAT was the only substance abuse program
available. Programming added in the last year has added space for treatment of 100 prisoners in various institutions at any one time; plans for increasing treatment programming
would allow the Department to treat more than 400 prisoners in all in-state programs at
any one time. Continuing the existing treatment plans, expanding the capacity of the system to provide substance abuse treatment, and following prisoners after release to ensure
continued sobriety and participation in substance abuse treatment is vital to keeping the
prison population low.
Failure to provide treatment in prison has enormous future costs. Holding a single prisoner in custody costs roughly $44,000 per year.366 The one million dollars cut from the
budget in 2003 that was dedicated to substance abuse treatment programs in prisons
is equal to the cost of incarcerating just 25 individuals for one year or incarcerating one
prisoner for 25 years, equivalent to a sentence for a serious felony. State-wide substance
abuse treatment programs would certainly impact more than 25 individuals, proving to be
a more cost-effective investment. This calculation does not factor in the greater societal
benefits of treating alcohol and drug addictions and of preventing the costs (financial and
otherwise) of future crimes. The sudden cut in funding for substance abuse programs in
the early part of this decade coincided with a tripling of the number of prisoners returned
to custody for violating the terms of probation and parole, violations that typically come
about through substance abuse. In 2008 alone, the increase of prisoners in custody for
violations of probation and parole over the number incarcerated in 2002367 cost the state
$23 million.368 Focused spending on in-prison substance abuse treatment programs will
lead to reductions in drug use and subsequent criminal behavior, resulting in decreased
spending on the incarceration of returning prisoners.369 The substance abuse treatment
programs that the Department has reintroduced are vital and important parts of the
365	 The RSAT program is designed to “[assist] states and units of local government in developing and implementing residential substance abuse treatment programs in state and local correctional and detention facilities.”
366	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 23 (indicating
that DOC officials had reported the daily cost of incarceration at $121.60; multiplying by 365 days, the annual cost would
be $44,384).
367	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 734 offenders in custody for probation and
parole violations); Alaska Department of Corrections, 2002 Offender Profile at 15 (showing 216 offenders in custody for
probation and parole violations).
368	 Using the annual per prisoner housing costs listed above ($44,384 x 518 = $22.99 million).
369	 National Research Council Report at 49 (“It is widely believed that in-prison drug treatment for offenders leads to reductions in drug use and subsequent criminal behavior and to better outcomes in other areas, such as employment.”).

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system. Even modest success in preventing recidivism and reincarceration will more than
make up for the expense of the programs themselves.

2. Sex Offender Treatment
Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault of any state in the nation,370 yet the Department
of Corrections terminated in-custody sex offender treatment in 2003. Sex offenders received treatment only after their release to the streets. While sex offenders already have
a relatively low rate of re-offending,371 beginning targeted treatment while prisoners are
still in custody will help the rehabilitative prospects of sex offenders and, in turn, prevent
re-offending. Fortunately, a sex offender treatment program has been newly instituted at
the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center in Bethel, and another sex offender treatment
program began in December 2009 at Lemon Creek in Juneau. There are also outpatient
sex offender treatment programs at six different locations around the state, managing the
post-release protocol of monitoring, treatment, and polygraph testing.

3. Pre-Release Services
International human rights standards recognize that prisoners have individual treatment
needs that require accompanying services.372 In order to fulfill these needs, the Standard
Minimum Rules require a flexible system of classifying prisoners in groups, and recommend that such groups be distributed in separate institutions suitable for the treatment of each group.373 Prisons should provide appropriate services, such as religious
programming (if desired), education, vocational guidance and training, social casework,
employment counseling, physical development, and strengthening of moral character—
all in accordance with the individual’s social and criminal history, his physical and mental capacities and aptitudes, his personal temperament, the length of his sentence, and
his prospects after release.374 The Rules provide that an individualized program of treatment should be prepared for each prisoner as soon as possible after admission.375 In addition to substance abuse, mental health, and sex offender treatment as discussed above,
370	 Rosay, Andre, “Forcible Rapes and Sexual Assaults in Anchorage,” 20 Alaska Justice Forum (Winter 2004).
371	 Alaska Judicial Council, Criminal Recidivism in Alaska, at 8-9 (showing sex offenders in Alaska had a lower incidence
of reoffending than violent offenders, property offenders, or drug offenders).
372	 Id., Art. 63.1.
373	 Id. The Standard Minimum Rules recommend an optimal size for individualization of treatment, noting that in some
countries a population exceeding 500 is considered too large. Id., Art. 63.3.
374	 Id., Art. 66. The European Prison Rules note that special attention should be paid to the needs of prisoners who have
experienced physical, mental, or sexual abuse. European Prison Rules, Art. 25.4.
375	 Id., Art. 69. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 103-104 (stating that individual sentence plans, incorporating work,
education, other activities, and preparation for release, be drawn up upon admission). Studies have shown that best
practice rehabilitative programs are carefully tailored to the individual prisoner. National Research Council Report at
42, 61.

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individualized programs in Alaska should include education, job planning, and family support services.

a. Education
Many individuals arrive in prison with limited education, which, compounded by their convictions, may impair their ability to find steady work when released. Consistent with the
goal of rehabilitation and reintegration, prisoners should be provided with educational
resources while incarcerated as part of the reintegration process. Under international law,
prisoners maintain an uninterrupted right to education.376 The Standard Minimum Rules
state that provision should be made for further education of all prisoners who would benefit and that education should be compulsory for the illiterate and young.377 The Rules
also provide that so far as practicable, prisoners’ education should be integrated with the
educational system of the state, so that after release, the prisoners may continue their
education without difficulty.378
GED and Adult Basic Education courses are available at almost every facility, and a few
institutions have excellent vocational opportunities beyond the GED level. But education is
largely limited at most institutions to the GED level; while 12 out of 115 inmates who had
re-offended said that they had received their GED during a prior sentence, only a total of 38
prisoners total said they had received any vocational or educational classes during their
prior prison term. Prisoners at Red Rock even complained that, while GED classes were
available, no one would administer the GED test. Computer coursework, when available,
extends only to basic familiarity with Windows and has no recognized certification level.
While correspondence courses are available, most prisoners cannot afford them, and few
institutions assist those prisoners who can afford that coursework in applying for such
programs.
Studies show that recidivism rates are significantly lower for released prisoners with
more education.379 If Alaska continued the education of its incarcerated population, consistent with international human rights standards, its formerly incarcerated citizens would
be better equipped to reintegrate into their communities. For correctional education
376	 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Art. 13, entered into force Jan. 3, 1976 (“Everyone has
the right to education.”).
377	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 77.2. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 28.2-28.3 (“Priority shall be given to prisoners with literacy and numeracy needs and those who lack basic or vocational education,” and “Particular attention
shall be paid to the education of young prisoners and those with special needs.”).
378	 Id., Art. 77.2. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 28.7 (same).
379	 National Research Council report at 41; Martin, Stephanie and Colt, Stephen, The Cost of Crime: Could The State
Reduce Future Crime and Save Money by Expanding Education and Treatment Programs? at 3 (indicating that increased educational and job training programs were the most effective and cost-saving measures in preventing reincarceration, saving four times the cost of the programs) available at http://www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/Publications/
researchsumm/RS_71.pdf.

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programming to be successful, it should both be carefully tailored to individual prisoners
and be tied to vocational and job skills training.380

b. Job Training
Prison offers an opportunity for prisoners to be equipped with vocational and life skills
that will enable them to be productive citizens upon release. The Basic Principles for the
Treatment of Prisoners mandates enabling prisoners to undertake meaningful remunerated employment, designed to facilitate their reintegration into the job market and to permit them to contribute to their own financial support and to that of their families.381 While
work must not be forced, compulsory,382 afflictive in any way,383 or used primarily to make
a financial profit,384 the Standard Minimum Rules state that the prison should provide vocational training in useful trades.385 Furthermore, the organization and methods of work
in the institution should resemble as closely as possible those of similar work outside
institutions, so as to prepare prisoners for the conditions of normal occupational life.386
In Alaska, the prisoners gave glowing reviews regarding the vocational coursework available at Palmer Correctional Center. Unfortunately, at many other institutions, prisoners
reported vocational training was limited. Only 26 prisoners out of 115 who had re-offended
stated that they had received vocational training during their prior sentence. Such training
included training and certification in handling hazardous materials, life skills, and construction classes. The Department has laid out a plan to develop more vocational training
for prisoners at all institutions, in a variety of fields.
Another remarkable vocational and rehabilitative project is the Point Mackenzie
Correctional Farm. Point Mackenzie is a special minimum security facility that is a working farm. Prisoners are sent to the farm to work in the fields and care for livestock. The
farm is a thoughtfully designed facility where prisoners can perform useful labor, rather
than wasting their days inside an institution. By concentrating the minimum security prisoners in one facility, the Department is able to reduce the per prisoner costs of running
the farm far below the operating costs of other facilities. Altogether, the institution is one
380	 Id. at 42.
381	 Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, Principle 8.
382	 ICCPR, Art. 8.3(a) (“No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labor.”).
383	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 71.1.
384	 Id., Art. 72.2. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 26.8 (“Although the pursuit of financial profit from industries in the
institutions can be valuable in raising standards and improving the quality and relevance of training, the interests of the
prisoners should not be subordinated to that purpose.”).
385	 Id., Art. 71.5. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 26.2 (“Prison authorities shall strive to provide sufficient work of a
useful nature.”).
386	 Id., Art. 72.1. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 26.3 (“As far as possible, the work provided shall be such as will
maintain or increase prisoners’ ability to earn a living after release.”)

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to be emulated.
The environment at Point Mackenzie is a special one, where prisoners have freedom to
move around the grounds of the farm and have many tasks to perform. Instead of living in
institutional housing, the prisoners live in prefabricated housing on the grounds. Because
the facility is far out in the country and because the individual housing units hold only a few
prisoners, the conditions are rustic.387 Prisoners mostly use outhouses, since plumbing is
limited to a few main buildings. Produce from the farm goes to other institutions to supplement the food provided. The facility on the whole is a uniquely Alaskan one, conveying
real skills to prisoners in close contact with the natural environment. The facility prepares
prisoners for the responsibility and hard work associated with life in the civilian world.

Through vocational
programs, the community
stands to gain productive
members; without them, the
state of Alaska will continue
to lose members of their
communities to prisons
and pay heavy costs in the
process.

Providing good job-training is particularly important for prisoners, as many barriers, including some
set up by the State, await them when they reach the
streets. 28 prisoners observed that they were unable
to find work when released.

Parole or probation restrictions can inhibit finding
a job. One interviewee noted that the terms of his
release required him to submit to urine analyses
three times a week; he reported that the tests cost
him $60 each time and required him to miss work,
leading to his inability to keep a job and support
his family. Another noted that upon release, he did
not have enough money to pay for transportation to
work. Many of the interviewees who had reoffended
also observed that their prior convictions rendered
them ineligible for public assistance. As a result,
they found themselves homeless, unable to provide for themselves or their families, and
more likely to return to prison for either parole/probation violations or new charges. While
a variety of factors may have contributed to any individual’s inability to find work, 41 out
of 94 prisoners reported that their prior conviction was an obstacle in finding work upon
release. Without job skills or vocational training, prisoners who have completed their sentences face great difficulties in locating work.
Work is a primary component of successful reintegration and reduced recidivism, because
387	 Because of both the requirement to work in the fields and the rustic living conditions, the ACLU of Alaska expresses
concern that there is no explicit protection for prisoners who do not want to work in the fields or live in housing without
running water. The Department reports that prisoners are not disciplined for refusing to work or requesting a return to
a conventional facility; however, absent an explicit policy protecting prisoners from discipline and the loss of good time
for refusing placement at Point Mackenzie, some prisoners may feel compulsion to live and work under the unique
conditions there. If prisoners are put at risk for losing good time, they could end up spending more time in custody for
refusing work, violating international law. ICCPR, Art. 8.3(a) (“No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labor.”).

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it both provides informal social controls and reduces the economic incentives for criminal
behavior.388 Vocational and job skills training and opportunities, both in prison and continuing in the community setting, offer formerly incarcerated prisoners the means and
status to reject criminal behavior and establish themselves in their communities. Through
vocational programs, the community stands to gain productive members; without them,
the state of Alaska will continue to lose members of their communities to prisons and pay
heavy costs in the process. The legislature should watch the development of vocational
programs for prisoners and ensure that these prisoners are able to find work on release,
as well as reduce legal barriers to re-employment of released prisoners. Maintaining employment is a key to preventing recidivism.

c. Family Contact & Communication
Family support is an important component of rehabilitation. 389 It enables individuals to
maintain their links with the outside world, which will in turn prepare them for release and
successful reintegration as citizens, parents, and spouses. International legal standards
emphasize continuing relationships and contact between prisoners and their families. The
ICCPR recognizes that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and
is entitled to protection by society and the State.390 For those individuals who are lawfully incarcerated, international standards uphold the primacy of family relationships during the period of incarceration.391 Under the Standard Minimum Rules, prisoners should
be able to “communicate with their family and reputable friends at regular intervals,”392
through both correspondence and visits.393 The Rules note that special attention should be
paid to the maintenance and improvement of relations between a prisoner and his family,

388	 National Research Council report at 42.
389	 See, e.g., Brandon v. State Dep’t of Corr., 938 P.2d 1029, 1032 n.2 (Alaska 1997) (noting that “virtually every statement
on visitation by prison officials . . . and every major textbook on corrections stresses the critical nature of visitation
both in terms of reduction of tension inside the prison and the facilitation of the ultimate rehabilitation of the prisoner
strengthening his ties with the “free world”) (citation omitted).
390	 ICCPR, Art. 23.1. Each person has the fundamental right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with his
privacy, family, home, or correspondence and the right to the protection of the law against such interference. ICCPR,
Art. 17.1-2; see also European Convention, Art. 8(1) (“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his
home and his correspondence”.) and Art. 8(2) (“There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise
of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of
national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for
the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”)
391	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 79.
392	 The European Prison Rules state that prisoners should be allowed to communicate “as often as possible” by letter,
telephone or other forms of communication “with their families, other persons and representatives of outside organizations and to receive visits from these persons.” European Prison Rules, Art. 24.1.
393	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 37.

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according to the best interests of both.394 According to the Rules, the state itself has a duty
to encourage and to assist in maintaining or establishing such relations.395
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found that prisoner placement in a region
that was distant and difficult to access restricted the visits of his relatives, and that this
inaccessibility, in combination with other detention conditions, amounted to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.396 The Court also found a violation of his relatives’ right to
humane treatment, citing the great pain, suffering, and constant worry caused by the inhuman detention conditions, the prisoner’s isolation, and the “distance and inaccessibility
of the different penitentiaries to which he was transferred.”397 This decision is of particular
relevance to the situation in Alaska, where the few post-trial facilities are scattered across
a large state in which transportation is difficult and expensive. As previously noted, Alaska
Native prisoners are disproportionately impacted because their communities are generally located at great distances from the facilities.
Prisoners rely on family visits, phone communication, and mail correspondence to maintain their family relationships during incarceration. Due to the long distances and dangerous driving conditions, family visits may not be a feasible option for many prisoners.
Intrusive or unduly restrictive rules on visits left inmates frustrated about an inability to get
family and friends to visit: non-marital partners not admitted to visits because they were
not “family”; inmates’ children who could not be admitted because the only supervising
adults were non-marital partners; requirements of lengthy periods of advanced notice of
visits; and arbitrary exclusion of visitors from institutions.

394	 Id., Art. 79. The Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment
similarly recognizes the prisoner’s right to be visited by and to correspond with members of his family. In addition,
it states that the prisoner should be given adequate opportunity to communicate with the outside world, subject to
reasonable restrictions as specified by law or lawful regulations. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons,
Principle 19.
395	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 80. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 24.4-24.5 (“The arrangements for visits shall
be such as to allow prisoners to maintain and develop family relationships in as normal a manner as possible,” and
“prison authorities shall assist prisoners in maintaining adequate contact with the outside world and provide them
with the appropriate welfare support to do so.”); Brandon v. State Dep’t of Corr., 938 P.2d 1029, 1032 n.2 (Alaska 1997)
(recognizing that visitation privileges are a component of the constitutional right to rehabilitation). Thus, the European
Court of Human Rights found that the State has an obligation to assist prisoners in maintaining contact with their families. See, e.g., McCotter v. United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights (1993); X. v. United Kingdom, European
Court of Human Rights (1982). Likewise, the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) found that detainees
should be allowed visitations by family and friends at regular intervals, subject to the restrictions and supervision of
the Commanding Officer, in consultation with the Registrar. President’s Decision on a Defence Motion to Reverse the
Prosecutor’s Request for Prohibition of Contact Pursuant to Rule 64, International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda, para.
61. The Rules of Detention of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) specify that persons
awaiting trial or sentence are also “entitled to receive visits from family, friends and others”; restrictions on such visits
“must be necessary in the interests of the administration of justice or the security and good order of the host prison
and the Detention Unit.” Rules Governing the Detention of Persons Awaiting Trial or Appeal Before the Tribunal or
Otherwise Detained on the Authority of the Tribunal (“Rules of Detention”), Adopted 5 May 1994, Amended 21 July 2005,
(IT/38/REV.9), available athttp://www.icty.org/x/file/Legal%20Library/Detention/IT38UNDU_rules_rev9_2005_en.pdf .
396	 Garcia-Asto and Ramirez-Rojas v. Peru, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, para. 221, 225, 229 (Nov. 2005).
397	 Id., para 230.

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Given the long distances families must travel to visit incarcerated relatives, maintaining
phone accessibility is of vital importance. A near-universal complaint raised by prisoners
at all facilities was the difficulty in maintaining contact with family members through the
existing telephone system, provided by the private operating system Securus (formerly
Evercom). Securus is expensive and burdensome for the prisoners and the family members they need to contact. A phone call costs a $2 fee to make the initial connection and
then costs a further per-minute rate to call an in-state number. Rates are even more exorbitant for calls to the lower 48 states. Inmates are often unable to afford such fees and
are reluctant to pass them on to their loved ones. In addition, Evercom only connects to
numbers with an Evercom account and does not allow callers to leave voicemails, making
it difficult for prisoners to connect to family members whose numbers are restricted or
who are away from their phones. Furthermore, the prison does not allow more convenient,
alternative means of payment, including phone cards and call-forwarding systems. In total, more than a third of the inmates interviewed398 said that they had difficulty calling their
family members due to the Securus system.
Prisoners also experience difficulty connecting with family members upon release
Several prisoners interviewed for this report said that they were left where they had been
arrested,399 without the means to return to their homes. It is critical that the Department of
Corrections recognize that prisoners require assistance in returning to their families and
communities to begin the process of reintegration. Preventing prisoners from maintaining
these relationships creates an additional and unnecessary obstacle to reentry.

iv. Re-entry and Reintegration
Successful reintegration efforts begin in the prisons and continue in the community setting on release.400 International standards recognize the role of the State in rehabilitation
efforts upon the prisoner’s release. The Standard Minimum Rules call for governmental
or private agencies who can assist the released prisoner re-establish himself in society by
ensuring he has the appropriate documents and identification papers, has a suitable home
and work to go to, is suitably clothed, and has sufficient means to reach his destination

398	 Fifty-five out of the 146 prisoners who responded to this question reported difficulty communicating with family or
loved ones because of the cost or design of the phone system.
399	 The Department reports that state statutes require them to return prisoners to the place of their arrest, though they
will return a prisoner to a requested location, provided the transportation costs are no greater than returning the prisoner to the place of arrest.
400	 National Research Council report at 41.

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and maintain himself for the period immediately following release.401 Discontinuation of
mental health and substance abuse care due to incarceration has in the past meant that
many prisoners were actually worse off upon release than when they were first incarcerated, in terms of their access to mental health and substance abuse treatment.402 Such
pre-release needs should be taken into consideration from the beginning of the prisoner’s
sentence.403
In Alaska, one of the most common concerns amongst prisoners who had previous experiences of incarceration concerned the total lack of assistance in reintegration to society.
Prisoners are given transport out of the facility upon release but often without any money,
means to reach home, official identification, employment, and housing to start anew. In order to enable prisoners to transition back to society upon release with adequate success,
they must be equipped with the most basic needs, including photo identification404 (essential for getting access to food, housing, and other services), appropriate clothes, housing,
access to transportation, and, if they are eligible, help in signing up for public assistance.
Accounts of prisoners released right to the streets from a prior stint in custody with no job,
no place to live, no way to get medical care, and no access to substance abuse treatment
are all too common. Numerous prisoners told stories of going directly from the prison
doors to a homeless shelter. Others reported living on the streets or in abandoned cars
immediately after their release. Many prisoners reported returning to substance abuse
the same day or the same week as they were released from custody.
For example, one prisoner interviewed recalled that he was released to an Anchorage
street corner during the winter with only a sweat suit on. He had no idea where he was,
no form of identification, and no pocket money, not even enough for a phone call. He slept
at a local bus station until he was able to transport himself to a family member’s house.
He began a job search, but received no responses to his applications. In the meantime,
he tried to stay away from alcohol and support himself through freelance work. One year

401	 Standard Minimum Rules, Art. 81.1. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 33.7-33.8 (“Steps must be taken to ensure
that on release prisoners are provided, as necessary, with appropriate documents and identification papers, and assisted in finding suitable accommodation and work,” and “released prisoners shall also be provided with immediate
means of subsistence, be suitably and adequately clothed with regard to the climate and season, and have sufficient
means to reach their destination.”).
402	 Alaska Mental Health Trust, A Study of Trust Beneficiaries in the Alaska Department of Corrections, at 45 (showing
that about 30% of both individuals receiving mental health treatment prior to incarceration and individuals receiving
substance abuse treatment prior to incarceration did not receive treatment within a year after their release).
403	 Id., Art. 64, 81. See also European Prison Rules, Art. 7 (“Co-operation with outside social services and as far as possible the involvement of civil society in prison life shall be encouraged.”), Art. 107.4-107.5 (“Prison authorities shall
work closely with services and agencies that supervise and assist released prisoners to enable all sentenced prisoners
to re-establish themselves in the community, in particular with regard to family life and employment,” and “representatives of such social services or agencies shall be afforded all necessary access to the prison and to prisoners to
allow them to assist with preparations for release and the planning of after-care programs.”). Studies show that best
practice programs incorporate joint community case management between the criminal justice system and community providers. National Research Council Report at 51-52.
404	 The Department of Corrections has developed an agreement with the Department of Motor Vehicles to allow exprisoners to present their prison ID’s as proof for obtaining identification.

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later, with no job in sight, he violated his parole by consuming alcohol and ended up back
in prison.
Despite the predictable and basic needs of the large indigent population, the Department
of Corrections for a long time did not provide adequate services or programs to prepare
prisoners to be functioning, responsible members of their community. The beginnings of
a program for prisoner re-entry services can be seen at Spring Creek Correctional Center,
where one housing unit is dedicated to prisoners facing imminent release. Expansion of
such programs to other institutions, so that prisoners can leave prison with a job and a
place to stay, is a high priority for the Department. The program at Spring Creek will be a
model for the development of similar programs at other institutions.
A crucial link in the re-entry process is the probation or parole officer. While some probation officers care primarily about the success of prisoners in the outside world, too many
see themselves as enforcers, waiting for a paroled prisoner or probationer to slip up, so
they can be returned to jail. When probation and parole officers are trained, more emphasis needs to be placed on their role in rehabilitating prisoners. Officers should be taught
that their primary aim should be to see a probationer or parolee succeed in the community, not to catch them in a violation. More emphasis should be placed on teaching parole
and probation officers about the availability of rehabilitative, housing, and employment
programs in the community. More continuity of supervision should take place, with probation and parole officers meeting their charges in the prisons prior to release, so that they
can work with prisoners to make sure they get the help they need to succeed. No prisoner
should be released from an Alaska prison without a place to go, with no way to get to shelter, with no useful employment, with no access to needed medical and psychiatric care,
and without adequate clothing. Making these connections is not just the smart thing for
Alaska to do; this type of re-entry preparation is required by international law.405 Probation
and parole officers can be the needed link in this chain.
In addition to meeting Alaskan and international law standards for rehabilitation, rehabilitative programs are also beneficial because they have been proven to be cost-effective.
The cost of maintaining a growing number of prisoners in prisons is exacerbated by high
recidivism rates. Targeted rehabilitation programs both in prison and during post-release
have been shown to reduce recidivism rates.406 By providing rehabilitative programs, prisons would be instrumental in setting up newly released prisoners for reintegration into
405	 U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 60(2) (“Before the completion of the sentence, it is
desirable that the necessary steps be taken to ensure for the prisoner a gradual return to life in society. This aim may
be achieved, depending on the case, by a pre-release regime organized in the same institution or in another appropriate institution, or by release on trial under some kind of supervision which must not be entrusted to the police but
should be combined with effective social aid.”); id., Rule 64 (“The duty of society does not end with a prisoner’s release.
There should, therefore, be governmental or private agencies capable of lending the released prisoner efficient aftercare directed towards the lessening of prejudice against him and towards his social rehabilitation.”).
406	 See, e.g., Committee on Community Supervision and Desistance from Crime, National Research Council, Parole,
Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration (2007), available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11988.html. [hereinafter National Research Council Report]

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the community while reducing state corrections costs and improving community safety.
The State of Alaska should be encouraged to develop a comprehensive community based
re-entry program where all state- and community-based stakeholders work collaboratively to effectively use state resources to support successful prisoner reintegration. This
program would support the appropriate oversight and care from probation and parole
officers.

v. Recommendations from the ACLU of Alaska
1.	 The Governor should create an Alaska Re-Entry Coalition composed of the stakeholder state and community agencies that would work to utilize state and local resources to tackle the challenges of housing, employment, and vocational training/
education for newly released prisoners;
2.	 Continue funding proposed substance abuse treatment for prisoners during their
incarceration;
3.	 Enable the Department of Corrections to assist prisoners in finding continuous
substance abuse and mental health treatment upon release;
4.	 Fund the creation of more community-based substance abuse and mental health
treatment centers, located in areas of greatest need;
5.	 Ensure that more beds, staff, and resources are available for mental health treatment for prisoners with mental illness during their incarceration and assist them
in finding treatment at release and reentry;
6.	 Continue to fund and improve educational and vocational skills training to prisoners at the correctional institutions so that they are able to find work upon release;
7.	 Offer services, in conjunction with other state and federal agencies, to prisoners in
the weeks or months leading up to their release with information on finding work
and housing, securing public assistance, and applying to substance abuse or mental health treatment programs; and
8.	 Assist prisoners in maintaining contact with their families during their prison sentence by providing easy and affordable phone access and flexible visitation policies,
as well as setting a firm date to end the policy of sending prisoners to out-of-state
contract facilities like Red Rock in Arizona.

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F. Internal Governance Practices
i. Introduction
The grievance procedure is a vital component of the prison institution because it is the
only mechanism facilitating communication between the prison staff and the prisoners.
A well-functioning grievance system helps to ensure that the prisoners’ basic needs are
met and that the prison system upholds its own standards of professionalism and humane
treatment.
An internal grievance system, however, has its limitations. Some facilities in Alaska are
based in small towns where personal relationships are impossible to avoid. Even in facilities in larger towns and cities, the correctional facility itself forms a tight-knit community.
The close social connections and professional bonds among officers may make true impartiality hard to find. Even where real partiality does not occur, the appearance of favoritism diminishes trust in the validity of grievance review. Concerns among inmates about
the ultimate fairness in the process and the possibility of retribution may make some
prisoners unwilling to file grievances in the first place.

ii. Legal Standards on Internal Prison Supervision
1. International Standards
In order to guarantee the safety and security of all, people who are incarcerated must
respect the policies and procedures of the prison. In turn, the prison staff who supervises their incarceration must be held accountable to the same policies and procedures.
International human rights norms call on prisoners and prison staff alike to respect prison rules and standards, and any violations should be promptly addressed. When prisoners
violate these rules and standards, there are disciplinary consequences for them. When
prison staff violates these rules and standards, there should also be a fair and adequate
form of redress made available to those who have been wronged. The prison grievance
system then is important as the avenue through which people can draw attention to and
rectify the problems they experience while incarcerated.
Prisoners have rights under international human rights law to make complaints or file
grievances related to conditions of confinement. The Standard Minimum Rules outline the
recommended procedure for grievance and complaint mechanisms in prison.
First, every prisoner should be provided with information about the regulations governing
the treatment of prisoners in his category, the disciplinary requirements of the institution,
and the authorized methods of seeking information and making complaints in order to
enable him to “understand both his rights and his obligations and to adopt himself to the

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life of the institution.”407
Second, every prisoner should have the opportunity each weekday of making requests or
filing complaints to the director of the institution and also shall be able to make requests
or complaints to any inspecting officer without the director or other members of the staff
being present. Every prisoner should also be able to make an uncensored request or complaint to the central prison administration, the judicial authority, or any other proper authorities through approved channels.408 Finally, every request or complaint should be dealt
with promptly and replied to without “undue delay.”409
The recommended procedure stated above promotes the recognition of prisoner’s rights
and obligations within the prison walls. It ensures that channels for communication between the prisoner and those who imprison them remain open and that any abuses are
brought to light.
In particular, where the prisoner has a grievance related to staff violence against prisoners, several international human rights instruments emphasize the individual’s right to
complain and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by competent authorities.410 The Convention Against Torture underlines the complainant’s and witnesses’ need
for protection against retaliation.411 Even where no grievance has been filed, if there are
reasonable grounds to believe that prison staff have used violence against prisoners that
constitutes torture or ill-treatment, states have an affirmative responsibility to undertake
an immediate and impartial investigation.412

407	 Standard Minimum Rules, Rule 35.
408	 Id., Rule 36.
409	 Id., Rule 36(4).
410	 Under the Convention Against Torture, anyone who alleges he has been subject to torture or to other forms of cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has “the right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by, its competent authorities.” Id, Articles 13 and 16(1) (“In particular, the obligations contained
in articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture of references to other forms of
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”). See also Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from
Being Subjected to Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 8 (“Any person
who alleges that he has been subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by or
at the instigation of a public official shall have the right to complain to, and to have his case impartially examined by,
the competent authorities of the State concerned.”).
411	 Convention Against Torture, Article 13 (“Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.”).
412	 See Convention Against Torture, Article 12 (“Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed
to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has
been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.”); Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being
Subjected to Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 9 (“Wherever there
is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture as defined in Article 1 has been committed, the competent authorities of the State concerned shall promptly proceed to an impartial investigation even if there has been no formal
complaint.”); Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 2 (“Even in the absence of an express complaint, an investigation shall be
undertaken if there are other indications that torture or ill-treatment might have occurred.”).

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While the internal grievance and complaint mechanisms are essential to the functioning
of a prison system, the importance of independent review cannot be overstated. Prisoners
are out of sight and out of mind; most prisons are physically isolated, and the people within
them do not readily provoke public sympathy. As a result, what happens within the prison
walls is often shielded from public inquiry. Furthermore, prison officials and staff may
find themselves unable or unwilling to hold each other accountable for violations against
prisoners. When external, independent review is unavailable and internal accountability
mechanisms are inadequate, the prisoner ceases to have any recourse against violations
and finds his or herself extremely vulnerable. It is only when a death or serious incident
occurs that public scrutiny is brought to bear on the prison system, if then.
Human rights standards emphasize the importance of an impartial and independent investigation. The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment mandates that
any person alleging torture or other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment
by or at the instigation of a public official should have the right to have his case impartially
examined by the competent authorities of the state.413
International human rights documents underline that an “independent” process must go
beyond internal governance and incorporate external actors or agencies for purposes of
review. The Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and
Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment emphasizes that the investigators, who should be independent of the suspected perpetrators and the agency they
serve, must be competent and impartial.414 If the established investigative procedures are
inadequate because of insufficient expertise or suspected bias, or because of the apparent
existence of a pattern of abuse or for other substantial reasons, investigations should instead be conducted through an independent commission for inquiry or similar procedure.
Members of such a commission should be chosen for their recognized impartiality, competence and independence as individuals, and in particular, they should be independent of
any suspected perpetrators and the institutions or agencies they may serve.415 The Basic
Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials indicates that
this independent process includes a judicial process.416

413	 Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment, Article 8. See also Convention Against Torture, Article 13 and 16 (“Each State Party shall
ensure that any individual who alleges he has been subjected to torture in any territory under its jurisdiction has the
right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by, its competent authorities.” “In particular, the obligations contained in articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture
of references to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”).
414	 Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment, Article 2.
415	 Id., Article 5(a).
416	 Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, General Provision 23 (“Persons
affected by the use of force and firearms or their legal representatives shall have access to an independent process,
including a judicial process.”).

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In general, according to the American Convention on Human Rights, a prisoner has a right
to easy and prompt recourse to a competent court or tribunal for protection against acts
that violate his fundamental rights as recognized by the Convention or the constitution
or laws of the state concerned, even though such violation may have been committed by
persons acting in the course of their official duties.417

2. Domestic Standards
While international standards guarantee access to some kind of grievance or
complaint process, prior court cases have found no constitutional right of access
to the grievance process.418 The rights of prisoners in Alaska to file grievances are
instead defined by the Alaska Administrative Code and the policies and procedures of the Alaska Department of Corrections.419

iii. Internal Governance in Alaska Prisons
1. Grievance and Appeal Process in Alaska
a. Department of Corrections Grievance Policy
The State of Alaska Department of Corrections outlines the prisoner grievance and appeal
system in Policy 808.03. The current grievance procedure in Alaska seeks to resolve issues
“at the lowest possible level”420 and encourages “informal face-to-face communication as
the first step towards resolution.”421 If verbal communication attempts fail to resolve the
issue, the prisoner must then complete a Request for Interview Form, commonly known
as a “cop-out.”422 A prisoner can file a formal grievance only after filing this form and only

417	 American Convention on Human Rights, Article 25(1). In addition, Article 25(2) commits State Parties to “undertake:
a) to ensure that any person claiming such remedy shall have his rights determined by the competent authority provided for by the legal system of the state; b) to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy; and c) to ensure that the
competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted.” The United States has signed, but not ratified, the
American Convention and is not legally bound by its provisions. The Convention, however, reflects international standards upheld by the majority of member states in the Organization of American States (OAS), to which the United States
also belongs. In addition, as a signatory to the American Convention, the United States has an obligation not to defeat
the object and purpose of the Convention. Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Article 18(a). An examination of
U.S. standards under the Convention is therefore worth consideration.
418	 See, e.g., Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639 (9th Cir. 1988).
419	 22 Alaska Admin. Code 05.185; Alaska Department of Corrections, Prisoner Grievances, Policy 808.03.
420	 Alaska Department of Corrections, Policies and Procedures 808.03 III, “Purpose.”
421	 Id. VI.D., “Policy: Communication Continuum.”0
422	 Id.

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when the response to the form does not resolve the issue.423
The first level of the formal grievance system requires the prisoner to fill out a Prisoner
Grievance Form, attaching up to two additional pages of narrative and proof of the prisoner’s attempts to resolve the issue informally.424 The Facility Standards Officer, appointed
by the Facility Manager, must “promptly review all grievances to see if they should be
screened,425 easily resolved, or processed further.”426 If the issue is not screened or easily resolved, the grievances must be investigated by either the Facility Standards Officer
of the institution where the incident occurred or by an “objective staff member that is
not involved in the subject of the grievance.”427 Within 10 working days, the investigator
must send a clear and concise written statement of findings and recommendations to
the Facility Manager, upon which he or she will issue a determination and send a written
response to the prisoner.428
If an issue is screened, the prisoner may file an appeal to have the grievance reconsidered.
This grievance is forwarded to the Facility Manager, unless the screened grievance concerns an action taken by the Facility Manager, at which time it is forwarded to the Director
of Institutions. If the prisoner does not receive a response within 10 working days, his
appeal is considered denied.429 Grievances can be screened for several reasons, including when the issue is not first addressed informally; the grievance is not filed within 30
calendar days of the action; the specific relief sought is unclear; or the grievance raises
unrelated issues that should be presented in separate grievances.430
The second level of the grievance system allows for appeal of the grievance decision by
the Facility Manager within two days of receiving the decision.431 If the prisoner does not
receive a response from the Director within 15 working days, the appeal is considered
denied.432
The third level allows the prisoner to seek review by the Standards Administrator within

423	 Id. VII.A.1.b.4., “Procedures: Prisoner Responsibilities: Informal Resolution”
424	 Id. VII.A.1.c., “Procedures: Prisoner Responsibilities: Formal Grievance Packet Completion.”
425	 A screened grievance is a grievance that is rejected or returned for correction due to content or completion deficiencies. Id. VI.K. “Definitions: Screened Grievance.”
426	 Id. VII.A.2.d., “Procedures: Staff Responsibilities: Initial Grievance Review.”
427	

Id. VII.A.2.d., “Procedures: Staff Responsibilities: Initial Grievance Review.”; Id. VII.A.2.f., “Procedures: Staff
Responsibilities: Grievance Investigation.”

428	 Id. VII.A.2.f-g., “Procedures: Staff Responsibilities: Grievance Investigation-Formal Grievance Decision.”
429	 Id. VII.A.2.e., “Procedures: Staff Responsibilities: Screened Grievance Appeals.”
430	 Id. VII.A.2.d., “Procedures: Staff Responsibilities: Initial Grievance Review.”
431	 Id. VII.A.1.f., “Procedures: Prisoner Responsibilities: Grievance Appeal.”
432	 Id. VII.A.2.i., “Procedures: Staff Responsibilities: Grievance Appeal.”

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20 working days after receiving the Director’s decision. Such review by the Standards
Administrator serves as the final administrative action of the Department on the
grievance.433
Separate procedures apply to the processing of emergency and health care grievances and
grievances against staff.434 For health care grievances, the Institutional Health Care Officer
handles the initial investigation and an “impartial investigator” assigned by the Health
Care Administrator handles the investigation upon appeal.435 For grievances against staff,
the prisoner is not required to resolve the grievance informally with the staff member who
is the subject of the grievance, and the Facility Manager is in charge of investigating the
grievance and issuing a written decision to the prisoner within 15 working days, or returning the grievance to the Facility Standards Officer for informal resolution or for assignment to an objective staff member to investigate and issue a recommendation, upon which
the Facility Manager will issue a determination.436
If a prisoner files more than five grievances in a week or more than 20 grievances in any
180 consecutive days, he may be found to have abused the grievance system and may then
be subject to both a restriction on filing grievances and disciplinary action.437 In addition,
the Facility Manager has discretion to determine whether the prisoner has abused the
grievance system under the additional criteria of finding that the prisoner has a “pattern of abuse of the system by filing frivolous or repetitious grievances, or by filing false
statements.”438 Frivolous grievances address “information or circumstances that are
trivial, lacking in seriousness, irresponsible, self-indulgent, or that have already been
addressed.”439
The Standards Administrator and the Director of Institutions are responsible for the development, implementation and monitoring of the Department’s grievance and appeal system throughout the state. The Facility Manager, either the Warden or Superintendent of
the prison, is entrusted with monitoring the grievance process at the prison itself.440 For
purposes of accountability, the Standards Administrator must periodically audit grievance
records to ensure that all grievances are properly logged and handled pursuant to Policy
808.03. The Standards Administrator must report annually to the Commissioner about the

433	 Id. VII.A.1.g., “Procedures: Prisoner Responsibilities: Standards Administrator Review.”
434	 Id. VI.B., “Policy: Standard Grievance Procedures.”
435	 Id. VII.B., “Procedures: Health Care Grievances.”
436	 Id. VII.C.1., “Procedures: Grievance Against Staff: Allegations of Staff Misconduct.”
437	 Id. VI.F.1., “Policy: Grievance System Abuse.” Note: the policy does not specify the scope of the restriction or the nature
of the disciplinary action.
438	 Id. VI.F.1 and 3, “Policy: Grievance System Abuse.”
439	 Id. V.D., “Definitions.”
440	 Id. VI.A., “Policy: Grievance and Appeal System.”

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disposition and handling of grievances by the Department.441
Retaliatory action against any prisoner for pursuing a grievance is prohibited, and the
policy guidelines note that, “claims about retaliation will be reviewed and processed as
grievances alleging staff misconduct.”442 Retaliatory action includes “any form of discipline, placement in administrative segregation, transfer, other adverse classification action, or harassment that is imposed upon a prisoner for a prisoner’s filing or pursuit of a
grievance.”443

b. A Fair and Adequate Procedure?
The grievance system is the only internal mechanism by which prisoners can formally file
complaints regarding prison conditions, abuses and violations. This system is thus central to ensuring that the facility’s standards are upheld and that the prisoners’ rights are
adequately protected.
Alaska’s Department of Correction Policy 808.03 establishes policies and procedures for
the formal grievance system. The policy was drafted to establish fair and adequate procedures for the grievance system; however, these procedures do not, in fact, comport
with international human rights standards. For instance, international human rights law
calls for an investigation by an impartial and competent investigator “independent of . .
. the agency . . . .”444 According to § 808.03, the Facility Standards Officer and the Facility
Manager are the officials in charge of the first level of review and second level of review
respectively, but the policy does not mandate that these officials be impartial and in every
case are representatives of the Department of Corrections, not independent of the agency
concerned.
While the first level of review does allow for the investigation to be conducted by an “objective staff member that is not involved in the subject of the grievance,” this is not a requirement. In fact, some prisoners reported that when they filed complaints against the Facility
Standards Officer, this officer reviewed them. A number of prisoners similarly reported
that grievances were reviewed by the officers against whom the grievances were filed.
441	 Id. VII.F., “Procedures: Records and Accountability”
442	 Id. VI.H.8., “Policy: Staff Responsibilities.”
443	 Id. V.I., “Definitions.”
444	 “The investigators, who shall be independent of the suspected perpetrators and the agency they serve, shall be competent and impartial. They shall have access to, or be empowered to commission investigations by, impartial medical
or other experts.” Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 2; “Any person who alleges that he has been subjected to torture or
other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by or at the instigation of a public official shall have the
right to complain to, and to have his case impartially examined by, the competent authorities of the State concerned.”
Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment, Article 8.

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Others reported that grievances were reviewed by relatives, spouses, or close friends of
the officer against whom the grievance was filed.
The Department contends that investigation and response to a grievance by the officer involved can be
The existing policies do
appropriate where the grievance challenges a policy
not require an investigator
of the Department, rather than alleging misconduct
on the part of the officer. As an example, a prisoner
to seek out commentary
who grieves the fact that he was not taken to the law
or clarification from the
library after making a request may not be alleging
misconduct on the part of the officer; the denial of
prisoner or interview
access to the law library may have been because the
witnesses in cases where
law library was already full or the computers were
down or any number of legitimate reasons for denying
there is a fundamental
the prisoner access to the law library. Nonetheless,
factual dispute, but may
review of the complaint by the officer involved in denying the request may lead to a defensive response
examine the statement filed
in which the officer seeks to explain the legitimacy of
by the officer in question
his actions. Review by a truly uninvolved party, on the
other hand, may lead to a finding that the denial was
and reject the grievance out
legitimate, but also identify alternative procedures
of hand.
to avoid the problem in the future. If the prisoner
couldn’t use the law library because it was already
full, a third party might be more likely to look at why
it was full and suggest a change in the process for or scheduling of law library visits to
avoid congestion.
When a Facility Standards Officer or “objective staff member” uninvolved in the substance
of the grievance reviews a prisoner’s grievance, this procedure still poses significant risks
to maintaining an independent and impartial investigation. The importance of an impartial
investigation in the prison context cannot be overstated; given the enormous discretion
provided to prison officials, the lack of transparency and the absence of external review,
prisons need open and user-friendly procedures for independent review of grievances.
Instead, the popular perception among prisoners was that grievances are often investigated in a superficial fashion. The existing policies do not require an investigator to seek
out commentary or clarification from the prisoner or interview witnesses in cases where
there is a fundamental factual dispute, but may examine the statement filed by the officer
in question and reject the grievance out of hand.
Prisoners from many facilities perceived collusion among some corrections officers regarding grievances. Prisoners complained that the corrections officers could make copouts or grievances “disappear”; some prisoners alleged that officers would cover for each
other. Prisoners told far too many stories of cop-outs and grievances that were filed and
later could not be found for the phenomenon to be a fabrication. One prisoner reported

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that after he filed a grievance against a corrections officer, the officer confronted him
and told him that, as a prisoner, he couldn’t do anything to the officer. Another prisoner recalled that one corrections officer who had helped inmates with writing “cop-outs”
(i.e. complaints or requests to prison administrators) was punished by colleagues and
assigned to the segregation unit as punishment. Several prisoners reported that, at disciplinary or classification hearings, the disciplinary officers would state that he “would not
go against” another officer, or that the officer would do what the superintendent wanted
him to do, or that the officer was part of “a team” with other officers and rule against the
prisoner.445
The concerns raised by the prisoners regarding the grievance system tended to take three
forms: concerns that the grievance system was mostly ineffective at addressing prisoner
complaints, concerns about retribution from the officers complained about, and, resulting
from those two concerns, a chilling effect on the use of the grievance system.

i. Ineffective Grievances
The vast majority of prisoners expressed low confidence in the effectiveness of the grievance system. Out of 133 prisoners responding to the grievance questions, 78 reported filing grievances in the Alaska prison system. Almost 80% of all prisoners filed no grievances
in 2008, while 41% of all prisoners interviewed by the ACLU of Alaska reported not having
filed a grievance at some point during their stay in custody.446 Only five of those prisoners
interviewed (4% of those responding to the grievance questions) reported that all their
grievances had been resolved, meaning either that the issue was moot or the facility had
taken corrective measures to redress the issue. 12 prisoners reported that 50% or more
of their grievances had been resolved. 11 reported that less than 50% of their grievances
had been resolved, and 45 reported that the prison system provided no resolution.447 As
a result of the reported low success rate of internal grievance procedures, grievances
were largely viewed as “a waste of time.” As indicated earlier, the prisoners who spoke
with ACLU of Alaska representatives reported filing grievances at a higher rate than most
prisoners. The ACLU of Alaska did not specifically address filing a grievance within the last
calendar year in the questions asked on the survey.
A number of these prisoners resort to outside measures, such as notifying an ombudsman
or obtaining a court order, to resolve the issue. Notifying an ombudsman is not common,

445	 Audio recordings are made of disciplinary hearings and preserved for 60 days, unless the prisoner appeals the result
of his hearing. Alaska Department of Corrections, Disciplinary Hearing/Officer and Basic Operation, Policy 809.04 (K)
available at http://www.correct.state.ak.us/corrections/pnp/pdf/809.04.pdf. Since records of uncontested disciplinary
hearings are not preserved more than 60 days, the ACLU of Alaska did not attempt to locate the records of these hearings, nor was it clear whether these comments were made on the record.
446	 Alaska Department of Corrections, 2008 Grievance Report, at 8.
447	 Five prisoners did not report whether or not their grievances were resolved.

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The warder [© iStockphoto.com/Lukasz Laska]

however, since prisoners may not even know how to contact one. The ombudsman has
limited power to resolve incidents, usually making recommendations to any department
or agency in the event of a negative finding. The ombudsman has no power to investigate
out-of-state incidents at contract facilities. The Ombudsman’s office is not in the chain of
response to prisoner grievances; only those prisoners who know about the Ombudsman’s
office and seek the Ombudsman’s assistance on their own get help. Last, the ombudsman
serves the whole of state government, not merely the prison system, leaving a crowded
docket of complaints of all sorts; it has not opened an investigation into the Department of
Corrections since 2007.448 The ombudsman’s office, currently with a staff of 11, has completed 21 full investigations into the Department of Corrections since 1990, slightly more
than one a year.449
The Department believes that the influence of outside observers, including the ACLU of
Alaska and other non-profit organizations, the media, and concerned citizens, can play
an important role in monitoring conditions in the prisons and mitigate the need for more
elaborate internal processes. While each organization and individual has an important role
to play in monitoring prison conditions, the capacity of these organizations and individuals
just to conduct an investigation into fact-intensive situations would be overwhelmed by the
volume of complaints and the challenges of conducting an investigation inside a closed
prison facility. In many cases, even where the investigation could be completed, the ability
448	 Alaska Office of the Ombudsman, Fully Investigated Complaints, available at http://www.state.ak.us/local/akpages/
LEGISLATURE/ombud/table.htm (listing all full investigations by the Ombudsman’s office, and showing the most recent Department of Corrections investigation in 2007).
449	 Id.; Alaska Office of the Ombudsman, Meet the Staff at http://ombud.alaska.gov/staff.php .

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of these organizations to enforce a resolution to the dispute would be very limited.
Prisoners also viewed filing grievances as ineffective because of the frequency with which
they are screened out – meaning that the grievance was summarily denied without investigation. Out of 63 people who reported on whether or not their grievance had been
screened, 39 people reported that at least some of their grievances had been screened.
Six reported that all of their grievances had been screened.
While § 808.03 clearly enumerates the grounds for screening certain issues, prison facilities, according to prisoner reports, routinely screen grievances on other issues. One
prisoner was told that a grievance was screened so that the matter could be dealt with
internally. Another was told that the allegations in his complaint against a corrections officer were too “incredible” to be believed, without any investigation conducted. Another
prisoner noted that grievances were sometimes screened when corrections officers were
protecting other officers they were related to.
Still other prisoners reported that prison officials sought to prevent them from filing
grievances. Another prisoner reported that the officer crumpled up his grievance form
when he handed it to her. Other prisoners were simply told to stop filing grievances by the
Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent.

ii. Retaliation
The ACLU of Alaska has no explicit, verifiable evidence of retaliation taken against a prisoner for filing a grievance. However, whether an adverse decision against a prisoner – a
decision to seek reclassification or punitive charges – amounts to retaliation necessarily
depends on the mental state of the officers involved, a condition difficult to assess as an
outside observer. We do note that some prisoners expressed fear of retaliation for filing
a complaint against a corrections officer, regardless of whether or not an investigation
proceeds.
Of prisoners with whom the ACLU of Alaska met, about half of the prisoners who filed a
grievance reported some form of retaliation.450 Retaliatory action can take many forms
besides physical or verbal harassment. As stated in § 808.03, retaliatory action includes
“any form of discipline, placement in administrative segregation, transfer, other adverse
classification action, or harassment that is imposed upon a prisoner for a prisoner’s filing or pursuit of a grievance.”451 The prisoners reporting retaliation described a variety of
retaliatory actions. Some reported verbal harassment and provocation as well as general
intimidation; destruction of property; denial of recreation and use of a phone, as well as
450	 36 reported retaliation, 1 reported that there had been no retaliation but he expected it any day, and 41 reported that
there was no retaliation.
451	 Id. V.I., “Definitions.”

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other privileges; physical attacks; increased subjection to strip searches, shakedowns,
and write-ups; loss or denial of work; denial of medical treatment; placement in administrative segregation; transfer to another facility; denial of credit for time served; and raised
classification status.

The fear that reporting staff
misconduct could place a
prisoner in harm’s way was
a common reply to questions
about grievances.

One prisoner reported filing a grievance and then
being written up for doing so. He was put into administrative segregation for 30 days. As a result, he
is afraid of filing grievances, recognizing that people
who file grievances “can be singled out.” Another
prisoner confirmed, “If you speak up, they make it
hard for you.” The fear that reporting staff misconduct could place a prisoner in harm’s way was a
common reply to questions about grievances.

As stated above, adverse actions become retaliation
only when an officer takes that action maliciously. Prisoners may not be in the best position to distinguish between malicious action and ordinary conduct of prison administration. Particularly, as noted in earlier sections, mental illness is common in the prison
system, including paranoid tendencies. At least some prisoners complaining of retaliation
were likely experiencing a form of paranoia, seeing malice where there was none. Still,
the scope of the complaints raise concerns; further, the function of the grievance system
can only be understood in light of the perceptions – correct or incorrect – of prisoners. The
ACLU of Alaska believes this represents an area for further investigation.

iii. Chilling Effect
The prisoners interviewed described both a belief in the futility of filing a grievance and a
fear of retaliatory action. Five prisoners interviewed specifically stated that even though
they had desired to file grievances about prison conditions, they had never filed a grievance for fear of retaliation. Another prisoner reported that, if someone filed a grievance
against a staff member, the grievance would be deemed a “false grievance,” and the complainant would be disciplined for lying to a staff member. As a result, prisoners who view
grievances as a waste of time or as an invitation to be singled out by their peers and the
prison staff have little reason to file grievances in the first instance.
Several prisoners we interviewed noted that the problems with the grievance process had
worsened since the end of the Cleary supervision. Prisoners who have been incarcerated
in Alaska for a long time recalled that the Cleary Compliance Monitor had been effective
in keeping prison staff accountable. Based on the success of the monitor in the earlier supervision, the utility of having an independent observer – the same model the Department
follows in observing conditions at its own contract facilities – has been demonstrated.

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iv. Recommendations by the ACLU of Alaska on Internal Governance
Procedures:
1.	 Ensure that an investigation is not conducted by those involved in the subject
matter of the grievance or their close relatives, especially for claims against staff;
2.	 Require staff to give detailed reasons for delaying investigation or screening
grievances;
3.	 Ensure that grievance procedures are adequately explained to prisoners upon arrival and provide necessary forms;
4.	 Time-stamp any “cop-out” or grievance form a prisoner submits and allow him
or her to keep a duplicate or carbon copy, or alternately provide a receipt with a
tracking number, as proof that the “cop-out” or grievance was filed;
5.	 Improve the monitoring of staff-inmate interactions after the filing of a grievance
to prevent retaliation or fear of retaliation;
6.	 Provide regular institutional review of procedures;
7.	 Monitor the prisoner perceptions of the grievance system by polling prisoners
anonymously about their views of the grievance system; and
8.	 Provide for external review of grievances by a dedicated correctional ombudsman
or external monitor.

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G. Discriminatory Treatment
i. Introduction
The promise of equality for all people has long been a vital part of international, federal,
and Alaska law. Yet prisons in Alaska hold twice as many Alaska Natives as found in the
general population of Alaska. Alaska Natives in prison often find themselves unable to
keep in touch with families from rural villages, unable to practice their traditional religion, and unable to access rehabilitative programs. Women in Alaska prisons find themselves insufficiently protected from sexual assault and harassment by male prisoners and
guards.

ii. Legal Non-Discrimination Standards
1. International Standards
International law protects the rights of specific groups of individuals identified by their
gender, race, or indigenous origin, and prohibits discrimination against them on the basis
of their minority status.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressly
prohibits racial discrimination. Under this international treaty, state parties “condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a
policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.”452 Thus, they must “take effective measures to review governmental, national, and local policies, and to amend, rescind
or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial
discrimination wherever it exists.”453 Not only must states refrain from discrimination,454
they must also take positive action to end it. They should prohibit racial discrimination
and “bring [it] to an end, by all appropriate means,” including through the enactment of
legislation,455 and they should, where warranted, “take special and concrete measures to
ensure the adequate development and protection of certain racial groups or individuals
belonging to them” in order to guarantee them their equal enjoyment of human rights.456
Furthermore, under international law, individuals have the “right to liberty and security of
person” without distinction on the basis of color or race457 and to “protection by the State
452	 CERD, art. 2(1).
453	 Id. Art. 2(1)(c).
454	 Id. Art. 2(1)(a).
455	 Id. Art. 2(1)(d).
456	 Id. Art. 2(2).
457	 ICCPR, Arts. 2(1) and 9(1). See also United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 1904 (XVIII) of 20 November 1963, Article 7.

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against violence or bodily harm,” including violent acts committed by a government official
or through an institution.458
International laws and standards also expressly protect cultural communities. The
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognizes the
right of peoples to “freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”459
State parties have an obligation to ensure that men and women have equal “enjoyment of
all economic, social and cultural rights” recognized by the Covenant.460 This obligation requires, first, that a State revise policies that disparately impact indigenous minorities and
their cultures, and second, that it affirmatively takes measures to support and protect cultural life, such as promoting and maintaining family bonds among indigenous minorities.
As recently as September 2007, the international community reaffirmed the rights of indigenous peoples with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation
or destruction of their culture. Like the ICESCR and the ICCPR, this declaration provides
for the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination, that is, the ability to determine
their political status, and to pursue their economic and cultural development.461 These
international instruments emphasize indigenous peoples’ right to freedom from State oppression, highlighting their right to life and security of person, as well as their collective
right to “live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples.”462 Moreover, signatory
States have a further obligation to affirmatively act to protect indigenous minorities, and
provide remedies for actions that have the effect of depriving indigenous peoples of their
integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities.463 States must
provide remedies for any form of forced population transfer that has the effect of violating
or undermining the rights of indigenous peoples.464 Certain other measures help ameliorate state discrimination against indigenous individuals – for example the ICESCR hints
at the role of the family in helping maintain indigenous cultures, by providing conduits of
information and cultural learning, and demands that the States maintain the “widest pos-

458	 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Proclaimed by General Assembly
resolution 1904 (XVIII) of 20 November 1963, Article 7.
459	 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Adopted by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI),
16 December 1966, Article 1.
460	 ICCPR, Article 3.
461	 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Adopted by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI),
16 December 1966, Article 1.
462	 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 61/295 on
13 September 2007, Article 7(1-2).
463	 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 61/295 on
13 September 2007, Article 8(1), 8(2)(a).
464	 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 61/295 on
13 September 2007, Article 8(2)(c).

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sible protection and assistance . . . to the family.”465
	
International standards concerning the rights and treatment of prisoners include specific
protections for indigenous peoples and the practice of their culture and religions during incarceration, especially where there are many members of the same indigenous group in a
single facility. For example, in the treatment of prisoners, there shall be no discrimination
on the grounds of “race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national
or social origin, property, birth or other status.”466 International standards establish that
it is “necessary to respect the religious beliefs and moral precepts of the group to which a
prisoner belongs.”467 If there is a sizeable community of prisoners of the same religion in
a single institution, international standards demand that a qualified representative of that
group be allowed to visit the prisoners.468 Even in sentence facilities, an institution should
use all “remedial, educational, moral, spiritual and other forces and forms of assistance”
to meet the individual treatment needs of the prisoners.469
In addition, international standards provide that prisoners should be allowed to communicate with their family and reputable friends at regular intervals, both through correspondence and in person.470 In facilities for sentenced prisoners, states are required
pay special attention to a prisoner’s family relationships and facilitate their development
where it is in the prisoner’s and the family’s best interest. Under international standards,
states must also consider the prisoner’s future release and help the prisoner maintain
relationships with people or agencies that will be in the best interest of his family and his

465	 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Adopted by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI),
16 December 1966, Article 10.
466	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social
Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, Part I, Rules of General Application,
Basic Principle, Article 6(1).
467	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social
Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, Part I, Rules of General Application,
Basic Principle, Article 6(2).
468	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social
Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, Part I, Rules of General Application,
Religion, Article 41(1).
469	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social
Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, Part II, Rules Applicable to Special
Categories, Prisoners Under Sentence, Guiding Principles, Article 59.
470	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social
Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, Part I, Rules of General Application,
Contact with the outside world, Article 37.

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own social rehabilitation.471
International law is particularly concerned with the status of and treatment of women.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
requires States to protect the equality of women before the law, ensuring, “through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women
against any act of discrimination.”472 States must also avoid “any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act
in conformity with this obligation.”473 The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence
Against Women provides further analysis.474 Specifically, it requires states to develop legal
and administrative sanctions to address violence against women. Women who are victims
of violence should be able to seek justice and remedies for the harm they suffered.475 The
Declaration also requires States to make sure law enforcement officers and public officials responsible for addressing violence against women “receive training to sensitize
them to the needs of women.”476
International standards suggest various methods to actualize these protections in the
prison context. Incarcerated women receive particular attention and protection from
international instruments. For example, international standards require male and female prisoners be detained in separate institutions wherever possible, and where they
are housed together in the same institution, the area where women are housed must be
entirely separate.477 Perhaps most importantly, women officers shall be responsible for
women inmates, and no male staff member should enter the part of the institution set

471	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social
Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, Part I, Rules of General Application,
Social relations and after-care, Article 79-80.
472	 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 2(c). The United States has
signed but not ratified this Convention. However, although it is not at present a state party, as a signatory to the
Convention, the United States is obligated to refrain from doing acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the
treaty. See Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Art. 18(a). See also supra note XX and accompanying text.
473	 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 2(d).
474	 Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Proclaimed by General Assembly resolution
2263(XXII) of 7 November 1967; Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, General Assembly resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993.
475	 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, General Assembly resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993,
Article 4(d).
476	 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, General Assembly resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993,
Article 4(i).
477	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social
Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, Part I, Rules of General Application,
Register, Article 8(a).

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aside for women unless he is with a woman officer.478

2. Domestic Standards
The federal constitution guarantees “equal protection” to every person within its jurisdiction.479 The Alaska Constitution provides that “all persons are equal and entitled to
equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law”480 and prohibits discrimination
on the basis of “race, color, creed, sex, or national origin” in relation to any civil or political right.481 Some federal civil rights statutes mandate equal treatment for prisoners: for
instance, male and female prisoners must receive similar vocational opportunities and
similar pay.482

iii. Inequality in Alaska Prisons
1. Alaska Natives in Alaska Prisons
Alaska Natives make up more than a representative proportion of the population of the
average Alaska facility. While Alaska Natives make up about 18% of the state’s population,
Alaska Natives constitute about 36% of all prisoners in custody. This overrepresentation
is hard to ascribe to just one source. A complex mix of factors likely affects the disparity. Alaska Natives are more likely to be convicted of alcohol possession and importation
offenses simply because “dry” and “damp” towns are concentrated in majority-Alaska
Native areas. A lack of community resources – especially substance abuse and mental
health treatment – in majority-Alaska Native areas may leave some Alaska Natives with
substance abuse or mental health problems that go untreated, resulting in more individuals ending up in the correctional system than in community-based treatment.483 Simple
income disparity – as almost 40% of prisoners in Alaska jails are awaiting trial – may
preclude the release of many Alaska Natives on bail. A cultural inclination to conflict
478	 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social
Council by its resolution 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, Part I, Rules of General Application,
Register, Article 53(1-3).
479	 U.S. Const., Amdt. XIV.
480	 Alaska Const., Sec. I, Art. 1.
481	 Alaska Const., Sec. I, Art. 3.
482	 Jeldness v. Pearce, 30 F.3d 1220 (9th Cir. 1994) (ruling that Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act prohibit unequal treatment of male and female prisoners).
483	 Alaska Court System, Report of the Alaska Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Fairness and Access, at 68 (1997)
available at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/fairness.pdf (describing a lack of treatment alternatives to incarceration in rural areas).

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Totem Face [© iStockphoto.com]

avoidance may promote guilty pleas.484 Real disparities in treatment based on conscious
or unconscious racial motives from judges, probation officers, attorneys, police officers,
jurors, or other parties to the criminal justice process may also impact the proportion of
Alaska Natives convicted of crimes and sentenced to incarceration in Alaska.485

a. Family Contact
In addition to the cultural isolation of prison, many Alaska Natives report difficulty in maintaining contact with their family members while incarcerated. Because Alaska Natives often live outside of Alaska’s urban centers, many Alaska Native prisoners are transported
484	 Alaska Court System, Report of the Alaska Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Fairness and Access, at 68 (1997)
available at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/fairness.pdf; see also Morrow, Phyllis, A Sociolinguistic Mismatch:
Central Alaskan Yup’iks and the Legal System, 10 Justice Forum (Summer 1993) available at http://justice.uaa.alaska.
edu/forum/10/2summer1993/a_socio.html.
485	 Alaska Court System, Report of the Alaska Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Fairness and Access, at 69 (1997)
available at http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/reports/fairness.pdf (discussing the disproportionate placement bail conditions
on Alaska Natives prohibiting the use of alcohol and prohibiting travel to certain locations).

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to prisons far from their families. Because of the difficulty of traveling across hundreds or
even thousands of miles from rural villages to urban centers, families may be unable to
visit them. The current policy of sending Alaskan prisoners out of state exacerbates these
difficulties in maintaining family contact. Given these logistical and expensive barriers to
in-person visits, telephone calls are the most expedient form of communication, but even
those calls can be expensive. Of the 49 Alaska Natives interviewed, 13 claimed the phone
calls to their family were prohibitively expensive. Because they are the prisoners who usually live furthest from their families and because of disproportionate poverty making longdistance travel and communication difficult or impossible, Alaska Natives are affected
more than other prisoners by the lack of visitation and communication with families.

b. Access to Appropriate Rehabilitative Programming
A frequent complaint of Alaska Native prisoners was that the treatment programs they
needed were unavailable in their communities. After a prior term in prison, as a condition
of probation or parole, the prisoners had been forced to live in Anchorage or another city
to have access to those programs. The scarcity of rehabilitative programming left these
newly-released prisoners in an unfamiliar city, far from their supportive families, far from
a familiar environment. Frequently, these newly released prisoners were forced to live in homeless
Success after release is
shelters while they completed their probation or parole. One Alaska Native commented that, for him and
often tied closely to family
others from Alaska Native areas, parole and probarelationships. A family
tion rules required them to remain in the Anchorage
area, far from their home communities, rendering
member who can offer a
family reconciliation and return impossible. Such
place to stay and a guiding
barriers to family reintegration are also obstacles
towards building healthy families and communities
hand as a prisoner returns
and enabling those released to desist from criminal
to the larger world is a
behavior.486 Some new efforts are being made by the
Department of Corrections, however, including an
lifeline for a newly released
important sex offender program which was develprisoner.
oped in Bethel in 2007.
An Alaska Native prisoner interviewed by the ACLU
of Alaska spoke of being released from custody but was required to remain in a large town
while on probation rather than returning to his village, where he had a home and a job.
Lacking a place to stay in this large town, he slept in his vehicle. Within a few days of this
sad existence, he began to drink again. Homeless and inebriated, he was arrested shortly
486	 Greater contact with family during incarceration has been associated with lower recidivism rates, and prisoners with
close family ties have lower recidivism rates than those without such attachments. Strong family support may keep
ex-offenders away from criminal networks and contribute to a pro-social identity. It is also correlated with better employment and avoidance of illegal substance abuse. National Research Council Report at 44-45.

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thereafter for a serious felony.
Success after release is often tied closely to family relationships. A family member who
can offer a place to stay and a guiding hand as a prisoner returns to the larger world is a
lifeline for a newly released prisoner. Along with the difficulties of maintaining relationships with family members while in custody, the probation and parole process tends to
foster recidivism in some cases by keeping rural Alaskans from returning home.
Another serious concern in the area of rehabilitative programming is the provision of culturally appropriate rehabilitative programs. Many traditional rehabilitative programs are
developed in a “confessional” style, focused on group therapy, with individuals talking with
numerous other patients about their failings. However, this model of treatment does not
resonate with some Alaska Natives. For many Alaska Natives, a program emphasizing
self-disclosure and confrontation would conflict with traditional values of stoicism and
conflict avoidance in communication. Requiring an older man to reveal his deepest faults
to a younger person, rather than a respected elder, might offend a sense of social order.
Creating programs to meet these needs presents particular difficulties. Finding a program
that has been thoroughly tested and its efficacy shown in studies will be nearly impossible,
since the populations involved are very small and unique. Corrections administrators will
have to trust collaborators and basically invent appropriate programming, tracking it for
evidence of efficacy as the program progresses.
As an example of the hazards of a one-size-fits-all treatment program, a 1996 study of
the sex offender treatment program formerly conducted at Hiland Mountain showed that
Alaska Natives dropped out in higher numbers than participants of other ethnicities.487
However, those conducting the study were surprised to find large numbers of older, educated Alaska Natives leaving the treatment program.488 The researchers anticipated that
the older, educated Alaska Natives would presumably be the most mature and motivated
participants, and thus would be more likely to succeed. However, the older Alaska Natives
were also likely those who deeply valued their traditions and had less exposure to AngloAmerican culture, making the program less effective in addressing their problems.
By contrast, one program that shows promise as culturally appropriate treatment has begun in Bethel. A sex offender treatment program aimed particularly at the Alaska Native
population in the area has been developed, with a special aim at restorative practices
that heal the community disrupted by the offenses. As part of the program, the offenders heard women from a nearby shelter describe the effects abuse had on their lives; the
offenders also constructed a fish camp and fished for salmon to feed the women in the
shelter. By connecting treatment with the community and with the traditional lifestyle of
Alaska Natives, the Department and the ACLU of Alaska hope that treatment will be more
487	 Mander et al., Sex Offender Treatment Program: Initial Recidivism Study, Justice Forum (1996) available at http://www.
correct.state.ak.us/corrections/media/documents/Sex_Offender_Treatment_Prog.pdf.
488	 Id.

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Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

effective for Alaska Natives, diminishing the risk of recidivism and uniting the community once more. Similar sex offender treatment programs for First Nations prisoners in
Canada have emphasized traditional spirituality and community healing.489 The Canadian
programs have also allowed important roles for elders in the rehabilitative process.490
More efforts along these same lines, as well as the simple dedication of more resources to
rehabilitation in rural areas, could improve the results of rehabilitation efforts for Alaska
Native prisoners.

2. Women in Alaska Prisons: Separation and Supervision
Between 1977 and 2004, the population of sentenced female prisoners in Alaska increased
by 729%, growing at an average rate of 15% per year.491 As the number of female prisoners
has grown, overcrowding has presented challenges for the state in creating equality in opportunity for female prisoners. The Department has developed a central facility exclusively
for women at Hiland Mountain. Today, Hiland Mountain has an excellent array of programs
and therapeutic options for women. However, women who are held as pre-trial prisoners
in other outlying facilities find themselves largely locked down to one housing unit in order
to maintain separation from male prisoners. Their access to religious services, rehabilitative programs, the law library, or exercise in the yard sometimes ends up compromised.
Successfully separating male and female prisoners has proven difficult. In the Mat-Su
Pretrial facility, one inmate reported that the male cell windows looked over the prison
yard. Because men and women were housed at the facility, time in the yard was divided
between the sexes. One day, male inmates looking down on the women in the yard exposed themselves to the women through the window. In response, the prison staff covered
the cell windows overlooking the yard with thick, opaque plastic, blocking the lighting in
these cells, even for the men who had not exposed themselves. As discussed above, international standards require complete separation between male and female inmates – a
shared yard clearly violates that standard.
Several of the women interviewed described situations in which they found themselves
alone, supervised by male correctional officers. Female prisoners have complained of verbal harassment from male correctional officers. Permitting male officers to supervise
female inmates without a female officer places the Department of Corrections in direct
conflict with international legal standards for the care and custody of female offenders.
Many of these difficulties stem from the limitations of building correctional facilities in
489	 Williams, Sharon, Aboriginal Sex Offenders: Melding Spiritual Healing with Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment, available
at http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/pblct/so/aboriginal/toce-eng.shtml.
490	 Id.
491	 Institute on Women and Justice, Hard Hit: the Growth in the Imprisonment of Women, Alaska Fact Sheet, at http://
www.wpaonline.org/institute/hardhit/states/ak/ak.htm.

ACLU of Alaska

129

small towns around Alaska. A woman awaiting trial in Ketchikan or Bethel cannot be economically flown back and forth from Hiland Mountain near Anchorage to the site of her
trial. On the other hand, providing fully accessible facilities for the small number of women in already existing prisons presents enormous challenges. As the prison population
expands over the next decade, prisons in towns and cities far from the Anchorage area
– in Juneau, in Bethel, in Nome, in Fairbanks – will need to expand just to accommodate
prisoners awaiting trial. As these expansions occur, the ACLU of Alaska hopes that the
state will keep in mind the special needs of these small groups of female prisoners in
constructing their facilities and consider designing housing units that would provide more
privacy and separation from male prisoners.

iv. Recommendations by the ACLU of Alaska for Equal Treatment:
1.	 Improve enforcement of requirements that male correctional officers are always
accompanied by female officers in enclosed or private areas housing female
inmates, such as cells, bathrooms, etc. ;
2.	 Develop a long-term facility management plan for the expansion of pre-trial
facilities to ensure that female and male prisoners and facilities are completely
separated;
3.	 Improve enforcement of existing standards on conducting physical searches of
inmates in a professional manner;
4.	 Ensure that female prisoners in pretrial facilities have equal and adequate
mental health resources and other rehabilitative programming available to them
during their pretrial incarceration;
5.	 Develop a long-term facility planning program that includes more development
of facilities, probation offices, and community correctional programs in rural
areas;
6.	 Implement policies that treat each prisoner as an individual and address the
needs of that individual as the member of a cultural or religious group;
7.	 Provide more therapeutic and rehabilitative programs geared towards the
cultural needs of Alaska Natives and in the geographic regions where Alaska
Natives reside;
8.	 Provide sufficient resources to enable the successful completion of probation
and parole requirements for Alaska Natives and permit them, wherever feasible,
to return to their home communities; and
9.	 Consider technological solutions, such as videoconferencing, for the difficulties
of maintaining prisoner –family relationships over long distances.

130

Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy: Avoiding an Everyday Crisis

APPENDIX A
ACLU OF ALASKA PRISON PROJECT INMATE INTERVIEW FORM
Interview Date:

Location:

Interviewer:

Biographical Information
Inmate Name:

Age:

Race:

Inmate#:

Birthplace:

DOB:

Tribe (if any):

Language:

Home Address:

City:

State/ZIP:

Phone:

Time in Alaska:

Education:

Work:

Current Prison Status
Are you currently represented by an attorney in a criminal case or prison conditions case?
____________ Attorney name(s)? ___________________________________________________	
Have you previously sought to contact an attorney or non-profit group regarding prison
conditions? ______________________________________________________________________
Are you serving a sentence? ___________ If so, start date? ___________ End date? __________
Held at what other facilities: ______________________________________________________
Nature of conviction (lead charge): ____________________ Classification: _________________
Are you held on a pretrial basis? _____________ If so, what is your bail? __________________	
Has a Third-party Custodian Requirement been imposed?________________________________

Prior Custodial History
Institution

Pre-Trial/Sentenced

Est. Date Entered

Est. Date Left

ACLU of Alaska

A1

Physical Conditions of Detention
What size is the cell in which you are currently being held? ________________________________
How many other prisoners are currently held there? _____________________________________
Maximum # of people you have shared your current cell or a comparable cell with? ____________
For how long? ____________________________________________________________________
What toilet/sanitary facilities are available to you in your cell? ______________________________
Are the toilet/sanitary facilities operable? ______________________________________________
Which toilet facilities must you leave your cell to obtain? __________________________________
How often may you use those facilities? _______________________________________________
Are you provided with means to clean your cell? ________________________________________
Is it light enough to read in your cell? _________________________________________________
Is the temperature in the facility sufficiently cool in summer? ______________________________
Warm in winter? __________________________________________________________________
Are there any health threats or unsanitary conditions in your cell (leaking water, sewage, etc.)?
________________________________________________________________________________
How many hours a day are you permitted to move outside your cell? ________________________
Are you ever restricted to your cell on a disciplinary basis? ________________________________
Are you ever restricted to your cell for lack of staff? ______________________________________
How many meals per day do you eat in your cell? ________________________________________
How many hours of exercise are you permitted per day? __________________________________
How many hours of educational/vocational opportunities are you given in a day? ______________
Are you able to work? Has the prison offered you work opportunities? _______________________
________________________________________________________________________________
How and under what circumstances have you been subject to a strip search? _________________
________________________________________________________________________________
How and under what circumstances have you been subject to a cavity search? ________________
________________________________________________________________________________
Have you ever been subject to a strip or cavity search specifically to humiliate you or as
retribution?_______________________________________________________________________

Narrative:________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

A2

An Everyday Crisis: Conditions in the Alaska Prison System

Health, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse
Please describe any outstanding medical conditions: ____________________________________
Please list any medications you are currently taking: ____________________________________
Prior to entering the prison system, with which medical conditions had you previously been
diagnosed? ______________________________________________________________________
Prior to entering the prison system, were you prescribed any medications? __________________
Are you still getting those medications? ______________________________________________
Since being incarcerated, have you sought treatment for any preexisting medical
conditions? ______________________________________________________________________
Did the prison system provide medical care and treatment consistent with your prior treatment?
________________________________________________________________________________
Have you ever been denied sick call or medical services? ________________________________
Have you ever suffered injury or increase illness because of delayed medical services in prison?
________________________________________________________________________________
Have you ever been refused the opportunity to go to the hospital or see a doctor not from the
prison? _________________________________________________________________________
Out of all your medical visits in the prison system, how many times have you seen a doctor, rather
than a nurse or physician’s assistant? ________________________________________________
Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness? Which illness(es)?
________________________________________________________________________________
Were you diagnosed before or after entering the prison system? ___________________________
Have you ever been prescribed psychiatric medications? _________________________________
Are you receiving your medications in the prisons? If not, why not?
________________________________________________________________________________
Has the dosage been altered since you entered prison? Why? ______________________________
Have you ever been forcibly medicated? _______________________________________________
Have you ever been physically restrained? How many times? _____________________________
What was the longest time you were forcibly restrained? _________________________________
During your time in prison, have you ever had any treatment other than medication?
________________________________________________________________________________
Have you ever been placed on a mental health unit in the prison? __________________________
Have you ever been treated at a hospital for mental illness? _______________________________
Have you ever felt suicidal in prison? How did the prison respond?
________________________________________________________________________________
Have you ever attempted suicide? How did the prison respond?
________________________________________________________________________________
Have you ever been placed in segregation because of your mental illness?____________________
Narrative:________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

ACLU of Alaska

A3

Have you ever had a problem with drugs or alcohol? With what substance(s)?
________________________________________________________________________________
When was the last time you used those substances? _____________________________________
Have you ever had a positive drug screen in prison? _____________________________________
Have you ever received any treatment for substance abuse? _______________________________
Has the prison provided you any substance abuse treatment? ______________________________
Have you ever received substance abuse treatment under a court order or an order from a probation or parole officer? ______________________________________________________________
Have you ever had an inpatient substance abuse treatment program? ______________________
Was the inpatient program voluntary or was it court-ordered or a term of probation or parole?
________________________________________________________________________________
What was the longest substance abuse treatment program you have completed?
________________________________________________________________________________
What was the longest period of sobriety you maintained? _________________________________
Have you ever been arrested for possession of drugs or alcohol? ___________________________
Narrative:________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

A4

An Everyday Crisis: Conditions in the Alaska Prison System

Prison Discipline and Grievances
How many grievances have you filed in the prison system? ________________________________
How many grievances have been screened out? _________________________________________
In how many cases was the grievance ultimately resolved? ________________________________
Has any guard ever mistreated you because you brought a grievance? How? __________________
________________________________________________________________________________
Have you ever been disciplined by the prison? __________________________________________
Were you given a hearing? __________________________________________________________
Was the hearing held or did you admit to the violation? ___________________________________
If you held a full hearing, were you given notice of the hearing in advance?
________________________________________________________________________________
Did you ask to call witnesses or view evidence? _________________________________________
Did the board allow your request? ____________________________________________________
What was the result of the hearing? __________________________________________________
Have you ever been put in segregation or solitary confinement? ____________________________
What was the longest time spent in solitary? ___________________________________________
In segregation? ___________________________________________________________________
Describe any physical or mental consequences of time spent in segregation/solitary:
________________________________________________________________________________
Narrative:________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

ACLU of Alaska

A5

Prisoner Safety
Have you ever been assaulted by another inmate? _______________________________________
How many times? _________________________________________________________________
Was a weapon used? What kind? _____________________________________________________
Where did the assault take place (what facility & where within the facility)?
________________________________________________________________________________
Were you ever injured by an assault by a fellow prisoner? Describe your injuries:
________________________________________________________________________________
Were you ever assaulted by your cellmate? _____________________________________________
Have you ever been assaulted by corrections officer? ____________________________________
How many times? _________________________________________________________________
Where did the assault take place (what facility & where within the facility)?
________________________________________________________________________________
Were you ever injured by an assault by a CO? Describe your injuries:
________________________________________________________________________________
Has a CO ever used pepper spray/Taser/etc. on you? How many times?
________________________________________________________________________________
Describe what happened: ___________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
If pepper spray or other spray was used, how did you clean out your eyes?
________________________________________________________________________________
How did the institution respond to the incident? Did it discipline the guard, discipline you, or do
nothing? ________________________________________________________________________
Have you ever been sexually assaulted in prison? _______________________________________
How many times? _________________________________________________________________
By a CO or by a prisoner? ___________________________________________________________
Where did the assault take place (what facility & where within the facility)?
________________________________________________________________________________
Did you ever report the sexual assault? ________________________________________________
Narrative: _______________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

A6

An Everyday Crisis: Conditions in the Alaska Prison System

Prisoner Accommodation
What religion do you practice, if any? _________________________________________________
Are you able to practice your religion freely here? _______________________________________
Are you able to participate in religious services regularly, if you want to?
________________________________________________________________________________
Have you had any difficulty in obtaining important religious items (books, icons, rugs, etc.)?
________________________________________________________________________________
Has the prison provided you a proper religious diet? _____________________________________
Has any prison staff member sought to convert you to another religion?
________________________________________________________________________________
Are you barred from participating in any prison-based programs based on your religion?
________________________________________________________________________________
Are you able to get into the law library? _______________________________________________
If not, does the prison supply an alternate means to get legal materials?
________________________________________________________________________________
How often are you able to go to the law library each week?________________________________
Are the materials in the law library electronic, paper, or mixed? ____________________________
If the law library includes electronic access, how many computers are there? _________________
On a typical day, how many of those computers are operable? _____________________________
On a typical day, is there anyone present to assist you with legal research? ___________________
Are you able to correspond with your attorney by mail? By phone? __________________________
Are you able to correspond with your family by mail? By phone? ____________________________
Have you experienced any difficulty in getting permission for family or attorney
visits?___________________________________________________________________________
Have you ever found that legal mail has been opened outside your presence?
________________________________________________________________________________
Has the prison ever refused to deliver mail or books/newspapers/magazines to you because of
their contents? ___________________________________________________________________
Narrative: _______________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

ACLU of Alaska

A7

Rehabilitation & Release
When you were last released from prison, how, if at all did the prison prepare you for release?
________________________________________________________________________________
Did the prison help you find housing? _________________________________________________
If you have medical problems or take medication, did the prison make sure that you could get
medical care/medical assistance/your prescriptions on the outside? ________________________
Did the prison help you to find work or apply for public assistance? _________________________
Did the prison assist you during your prior prison term with any kind of mental health treatment?
________________________________________________________________________________
Did the prison assist you during your prior prison term with any kind of substance abuse
treatment? ______________________________________________________________________
Did the prison assist you during your prior prison term with any kind of education?
________________________________________________________________________________
Did the prison assist you during your prior prison term with any kind of vocational or life skills
training? ________________________________________________________________________
At the time you were last released from prison, did you enter any kind of treatment program outside the prison? Inpatient or outpatient? Please describe it.
________________________________________________________________________________
Did you transition into the outside world via a halfway house or were you released directly to the
street? __________________________________________________________________________
Describe any other resources provided to you by the Department of Corrections after your last
release. _________________________________________________________________________
How many days after your last release did you first use a recreational drug or alcohol (if at all)?
________________________________________________________________________________
How many days after your last release did you first get arrested?
________________________________________________________________________________
Were you arrested for new charges or for parole/probation violations?
________________________________________________________________________________
What type of parole/probation violations? ______________________________________________
Were you able to find work after your release? __________________________________________
Were you able to find a place to live? __________________________________________________
How did you support yourself after your release? ________________________________________
Did your prior conviction prevent you from getting a job? From getting public assistance?
From getting housing? How so? ______________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

A8

An Everyday Crisis: Conditions in the Alaska Prison System

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION
of ALASKA

www.akclu.org

 

 

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