The state of Alaska is struggling with prison overcrowding and Fairbanks Correctional Center has found itself on the growing list of Alaska prisons often with more inmates than space.
A recent report released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska shows that over the past year, eight correctional facilities had exceeded their maximum limits for an average of 140 days in the time between Oct. 1, 2018 and Oct. 15, 2019.
Three of those facilities were forced to operate over maximum capacity for more than 200 days in the 379-day study period. Fairbanks Correctional Center was one of the three, operating over capacity for 253 days during the period listed. For example, FCC held an average of 285 inmates during the month of March this year. It’s maximum capacity is 259.
The ACLU of Alaska received these statistics from the Alaska Department of Corrections through a Freedom of Information Act records request.
The other two facilities at the top of the list were Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome and Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai.
This is not a new struggle for many of these centers, including Fairbanks.
“As recently reported, overcrowding is not unique to FCC — our entire correctional system statewide is operating at 97% maximum capacity,” wrote FCC spokeswoman Sarah Gallagher in a Tuesday email to the Daily News-Miner.
As of Tuesday, FCC held 258 inmates, one less than its maximum capacity. Gallagher noted that the facility is not currently looking to expand.
While many prison populations turn over as inmates complete sentences, this is not the case for FCC. Acting as a pretrial facility, Gallagher noted that 96% of the offenders at FCC are unsentenced, meaning inmates will remain at the facility leading up to and often during trial. Many of these trials have not been scheduled, so inmates will remain at FCC indefinitely until their case is addressed.
Between Sept. 2018 and Sept. 2019, DOC data shows a 20% increase in unsentenced inmates statewide.
Roughly half of the state’s prison population remains unsentenced at this point, according to DOC statistics.
Instead of looking to fund additional prison space within the state, Department of Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom, along with other state officials, recently floated a plan to outsource corrections to for-profit prisons outside of Alaska.
The DOC is currently seeking bids from out-of-state firms with the goal of sending 250-500 prisoners to private prisons in the Lower 48.
In her October announcement of the plan, Dahlstrom noted that only inmates with 7 or more years left in their sentence would be shipped out of state, making the proposed plan moot for correctional facilities like FCC which primarily house unsentenced individuals.
A group of state lawmakers earlier this year proposed the reopening of the Palmer Correctional Center in an effort to absorb the increase in inmates. Money was put in the budget but was not used by the administration.
The Department of Corrections saw an approximate 7% increase in state funding this fiscal year, one of only three state departments that weren’t cut under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s initial budget crackdown.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that money to reopen the Palmer Correctional Center was not vetoed.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.