JUNEAU — Alaska’s prison population could reach capacity by 2016, even as a new prison is just gearing up.
Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the estimate speaks to the effort under way within his department geared at reducing recidivism.
Schmidt said if the state can take steps to stop repeat offenders, it should consider those. He said the state doesn’t want to talk about building another prison any sooner than it has to.
Alaska’s prison population for years has been greater than its number of in-state beds, with some prisoners being housed in states like Colorado. With the recent opening of the Goose Creek prison, the number of available beds will exceed the prison population, even as prisoners are brought home. Assuming a continued average increase of 3 percent a year in the inmate population, the two lines cross again around 2016, he said. That could be pushed out a few years by reducing recidivism, he said.
The department has been taking steps, like focusing on behavior change and trying to provide the programs and skills a prisoner might need to be successful when returned to the community, said Ronald Taylor, a deputy commissioner.
The department’s goals include public safety, reducing the number of repeat offenders and ensuring that those who are incarcerated spend their time in custody productively. For example, Taylor said the medium-security Goose Creek has, or will have, a number of programs, including substance abuse, educational, job training, mental health and parenting programs.
A 2007 study by the Alaska Judicial Council found 66 percent of offenders come back into the system, 48 percent within a year of release. Jail admissions for parole violations went from about 1,600 in 2002 to 2,700 in 2011, according to the department.
As of December, 62 percent of inmates within the corrections system were non-violent offenders. That compares to 42 percent in 2002. Eighteen percent were serving prison terms of 37 months or more as of December, compared with 7 percent in 2002.
Schmidt said he couldn’t speculate on the reasons behind that.
Sex offenders are considered violent offenders, and he said the number of those in the system is up from last year and growing, while the number being released is dropping.
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