State announces plans to add 2,000 prison beds

Alaska Department of Corrections officials hope to have construction completed within five years

Posted: Tuesday, October 09, 2007

FAIRBANKS - State officials are visiting several communities that could have their local correctional facilities expanded under the state's new prison plan.

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State correctional officials want to add 2,000 prison beds in the state by expanding correctional facilities in four cities and by building a new prison.

The Alaska Department of Corrections hopes to have construction completed within five years, easing a housing crunch caused by overall population increases, drug and gang activity, new laws and increased minimum sentences.

The state routinely has to fly prisoners to be housed in other states, with 800 now confined in Arizona, said Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt.

The state's plan to address this includes a new, 1,260-bed prison in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and expanded jails in Bethel, Fairbanks, Anchorage and Seward.

The original 2,250-bed Mat-Su facility, approved under the administration of former Gov. Frank Murkowski, was projected to cost $330 million. But last spring, the size of the projected prison scaled back to cut costs.

The $220 million facility is now slated for occupancy in 2012 at Point MacKenzie. Preliminary work has started there.

Schmidt was to meet with Fairbanks officials this week to discuss expansion of the Fairbanks Correctional Center and the state's proposal of using city-issued revenue bonds to pay for the expansion.

Officials say plans for the Fairbanks' work already are partially drafted, and construction could start in 2010.

In 2004, the Alaska Legislature authorized a bill paving the way for deals in which cities or boroughs would issue revenue bonds for construction and the state would guarantee reimbursement.

It wasn't used until the state made a decision about the new Mat-Su prison, which was finalized in May.

Other meetings already have been held in the other communities, and follow-up conferences are expected.

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