JUNEAU — North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson, in a House Finance Committee meeting Monday, spoke out against Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to ship 500 inmates to out-of-state prisons. Wilson outlined a number of reasons why she feels inmates should remain at in-state institutions, including recovery resources, accessibility and treatment options.
“One of the biggest debates we had in Department of Corrections (subcommittee) was whether or not we want to send our inmates out of state or not and whether that would be a more affordable way than keeping them in-state,” Wilson said as she introduced the Department of Corrections Finance Subcommittee’s budget proposal.
The subcommittee approved unrestricted general funds of about $255.4 million for the department, about $9.5 million in designated general funds, about $32 million in other funds and about $11.6 million in federal funds; totaling a corrections budget of $308.5 million. This is lower than the governor’s proposed budget for the department.
“We found more savings keeping our inmates in-state and doing a program in which you would start in the institution, you would go the community residential centers, then you would go down to electronic monitoring only if the courts so mandated it on parole probation,” Wilson said.
Wilson took issue with the governor’s push to partially close the Wildwood Correctional Center just a few miles north of Kenai.
As part of his amended operating budget, Dunleavy proposed to cut about $6 million from the department’s budget by closing the sentencing portion of the center and cut about $30.6 million by shipping 500 inmates out of state, but Wilson noted Monday, the out-of-state contracts related to the outsourcing would cost the state about $17.8 million.
This wasn’t the only aspect of the plan that raised concerns.
“We were never shown where those inmates might go. We didn’t even have a request for information. We’re not even sure where the numbers came from,” Wilson said Monday. “But it was very concerning that we would be closing down a prison that, right now, is very successful in what they do.”
Wilson noted that keeping inmates in-state would allow them to be closer to families and closer to treatment.
The subcommittee recommendation would reduce spending by $36.9 million by keeping those 500 inmates in-state and placing “qualified inmates” in community residential centers or on electronic monitoring devices. The subcommittee proposed adding $10.5 million for community residential centers and $2.4 million for electronic monitoring devices.
“What I’d like the committee to take into this is that we have a process already that’s just not being utilized,” Wilson said, adding that proper use of halfway houses can increase work-force reentry and mental health and drug treatment. “We have those systems all in place.”
The House Finance Committee plans to continue the subcommittee close-out process throughout the week before beginning discussions and the amendment process on the full operating budget.
The committee will be accepting public testimony on the governor’s proposed operating budget from the Fairbanks area at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Members of the Fairbanks community can testify through the Fairbanks Legislative Information Office at 907-452-4448.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.