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Alaska Native groups are converting a Southeast logging camp into a minimum-security justice center based on Tlingit traditions.
Bob Loescher, a consultant for the Hoonah Indian Association, a partner in the project, said the justice center will be more like a halfway house than a prison.
"This will be a low-security facility that will be involved in the counseling of people for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, job training, family reorientation and getting these people back on the road to a successful life," said Loescher, a former CEO for Sealaska, the Juneau-based regional Native corporation for Southeast Alaska.
The center, scheduled to open in Hoonah in the spring, has federal grants totaling $2.15 million and five acres of land donated by Sealaska. But it doesn't have a commitment from the state to send prisoners there.
The idea for the center came from the late Hoonah elder, Richard Dalton Sr., and Juneau's Alaska Native Brotherhood Camp 2. It is named Teeykat.aa Cultural Justice Spirit Camp and Healing Center, using Dalton's Tlingit name.
ANB Camp 2 President Andy Ebona said the plan is to use Native language, arts, crafts and other aspects of the culture to create a healing environment for people coming out of prison.
The ANB chapter ran similar but smaller, culture-based programs at the state prison in Juneau and at a nearby halfway house that serves state inmates. The halfway house operator, the nonprofit Gastineau Human Services, is expected to run the Hoonah justice center once it opens, said GHS Executive Director Greg Pease.
Justice center organizers hope to reach an agreement with the state Corrections Department, which runs Alaska's prison system and contracts with halfway houses and other treatment programs.
Department Deputy Commissioner Portia Parker said the department is interested in the program but not in providing financial support.
"We've explained to them our situation, that we'd be happy to work with them, but that there's no funding available for the state to be able to pay for this," she said.
Parker also said the spirit camp would need to pass state scrutiny for security and other standards before it could receive inmates.
The justice center will be based at the former Whitestone logging camp on Sealaska property next to the land the corporation donated. The camp was chosen because of its location and facilities, including an administration building, laundry, dining hall-kitchen and bunkhouses, Ebona said.