My turn: State was right to cut prisoner-transport funds

Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The municipality of Anchorage wants Alaska State Troopers to begin transporting municipal misdemeanants to and from court and it sought legislative support of $461,900 in state funds to do so. Gov. Murkowski's veto of this spending has triggered heated statements from the city. But it is sound public policy and the right thing to do.

Suspects arrested by the Anchorage Police Department for municipal ordinance violations are taken to the Anchorage Correctional Complex, a state facility. The municipality pays the Department of Corrections for the time those suspects are housed. Municipal prosecutors litigate the case and any fines are paid directly to the municipality.

This whole brouhaha boils down to one minor point: Should the state now transport these municipal prisoners to and from court? For this one purpose the municipality wants to treat municipal prisoners as a state responsibility. This is unfair to other cities and unfair to Alaskans who must indirectly pay the municipality's cost.

In all the other cities of Alaska, the responsibility is clear and the local officials have no dispute. This administration has been working with municipalities to take on more responsibility, not less, for public safety in their communities.

The Knowles administration entered into an agreement with Anchorage in 1999 regarding the operation of the new Anchorage Jail, which contains an ambiguous section regarding transporting prisoners. While the municipality may want to hire expensive lawyers and spend lots of city money arguing about what the agreement means, we know that the intent of the agreement was to reflect how prisoners were being transported at that time. In other words, the state transports state prisoners to and from court, and the municipality of Anchorage transports municipal prisoners to and from court. The 1999 agreement wasn't intended to change that and, indeed, the municipality of Anchorage has been transporting municipal prisoners to court at their cost ever since 1999. The city's 2005 interpretation that the state is now somehow responsible for transporting municipal prisoners is not consistent with the agreement's intent.

Of note is that the same 1999 agreement requires Anchorage to pay a flat housing rate to the Corrections Department for municipally charged prisoners. This doesn't begin to cover our costs and in fact we are subsidizing Anchorage to the tune of $3 million annually. Those are funds the state certainly could use elsewhere.

To date the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections, and the Anchorage Police Department have been solid partners in law enforcement in Alaska. We look forward to continuing that cooperation in the years ahead as we work to protect the safety of Alaskans.

• Marc Antrim is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections and Bill Tandeske is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety for the Murkowski administration.

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