SUTTON — The Palmer Correctional Center’s lights remain on, but no prisoners will fill the 514 beds in Sutton, at least for the time being.
Alaska Department of Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom announced on Tuesday that the state will seek bids to send up to 750 prisoners to be housed out of state due to overcrowding in Alaska’s prisons. Elected officials from Sutton question why the facility remains closed.
“It’s very important to me because I have an empty prison sitting in my back yard,” Rep. George Rauscher said.
Rauscher had been traveling the Al-Can Highway and spoke to Dahlstrom on Wednesday. Tuesday’s DOC press release states that PCC is not a viable option due to the time it would take to hire 70 additional officers.
“The department is confident this request is the most immediate way to address this imminent population increase within DOC,” reads the press release.
Prisons in Alaska have received 250 new inmates since the passage of the SB91 reform bill, HB 49. With the five percent increase in population, Alaska’s prisons are at 97 percent capacity. Criteria for what inmates will qualify to be housed in the Lower 48 is still being developed, and Rauscher remains inquisitive about what the Request For Proposal will look like. Rauscher is concerned that inmates that are housed Outside may not return to live in Alaska once released. Rauscher is most concerned with keeping Alaska families close to one another.
“They need each other right now for the best shot,” Rauscher said. “Plus, obviously life skills which hopefully they are learning in the prison and I believe that’s where Palmer Correctional Center comes in.”
Opened in the late 1960s, the facilities at PCC include shops for carpentry, welding, and electronics. Inmates housed at PCC in Sutton can develop skills in a trade to be used once released.
“I believe that the Palmer Correctional Center should be reopened and I believe that it’s a very vital place that we can use,” Rauscher said. “I believe it’s an instrument that we’re not utilizing at this point which we should be.”
Though closed in 2016, the passage of HB 49 in late April included $16 million in state funds to reopen PCC. Chair of the Sutton Community Council Frank Buzby has worked for the DOC for 16 years and recalls the day that the prison closed down. Buzby said that the employees walked out of a working facility, and he would not imagine extraneous costs needed for upgrades. The Sutton Community Council passed a Special Use District for the prison that would not allow any private entity to use the facility for rehabilitation. However, neighbors and the Sutton Community Council are in favor of Palmer Correctional Center to be used to rehabilitate prisoners, as long as it remains a state run detention facility.
“The community’s all for rehab,” Buzby said.
The facility has not been mothballed, meaning that the power, heat and lights are all still on at the empty prison. Buzby said that the neighbors on 58 Mile Road were pleased with the prison. PCC provided jobs for Sutton residents, remained secure and the state plowed and maintained 58 Mile Road all the way up to the prison. Buzby is confused at the cost to the state to send Alaskans Outside for incarceration.
“I don’t understand how that could possibly be beneficial to our economy,” Buzby said.