Author: <span>sarahstanley</span>

Boundaries and Bridges Volume 1

Volume 1 2023 Editors: Jaclyn Bergamino and Naomi Hutchquist About the project Editors’ Introduction This project was borne from a group of teachers who had been facilitating creative writing courses in carceral settings across Alaska. We had taught at Fairbanks Correctional Center, Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, and Lemon Creek Correctional …

Update on Prisoner Access Bill

Read the update on important legislation that will facilitate inmates getting state ID’s, secured employment, improved access to healthcare, and enhanced educational opportunities to prepare re-entrants for their release. Of particular benefit to rural folks, this bill would have enabled video conferencing, reducing the burden of traveling to see loved ones.

Former State House Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins took the charge to introduce former HB 118 during the 32nd legislative session.  

LION worked to connect Representative Kreiss-Tomkins and Senator Scott Kawasaki with the non-profit Ameelio. Ameelio specializes in prison communication services and could provide the services and expertise required to operate internet enabled services within Alaska’s institutions. Ameelio’s proprietary software is proven safe and effective, operating in Colorado, Iowa, and Maine. As a non-profit, Ameelio’s services would be free to the end-user, removing a potentially heavy burden on families who have already paid $756,351.91 in FY2022 & $1,022,333,41 in FY2021 for simple phone calls. Instead, the State of Alaska would shoulder the cost burden by paying for the necessary data storage needed to monitor inmate communications. This may alarm some people who see the Alaska incarceration budget as out of control, ourselves included, but it is our belief that promoting a more equitable environment within our prisons will lead to massive financial savings through reductions on recidivism. In addition, a non-profit such as Ameelio would ultimately keep more money in the State, which would otherwise be funneled out of State through private enterprise whom are prepared to offer similar services if a bill similar to former HB 118 were to pass.

Overall, we commend the legislature for taking notice of the issues within Alaska’s DOC, and trying to address them. There is broad bi-partisan support in this manner. HB 118 did pass the AK House with a overwhelming majority, with 33 yeas, but ended up not making it out of the Senate’s State Affairs Committee. Despite this ultimately causing HB 118 to stall, we strongly believe the current legislature can come to an agreement on this issue this legislative session.

During the current legislative session there have been several hearings involving Alaska’s DOC with tough questions being asked on how to grapple with the overall problem of incarceration. Frankly, we have been impressed by both sides of the aisle to bring this issue to the forefront of legislative priorities. Actions have been taken by Representative Gray and Mina who are sponsoring HB 53 to mandate carceral institutions to provide a State ID to re-entrants. Additionally, former Representative Kreiss-Tomkins passed the torch to Representative Vance to carry on the former HB 118. LION has been in communication with Representative Vance who is reviewing the bill in its current state and plans to sponsor it soon.

The Stark Reality of the Alaskan Criminal Justice System: Incarceration, Exploitation, and Recidivism

Hey everyone,

Have you ever heard of the Prison Policy Initiative? Well, they’ve got some pretty eye-opening statistics about the state of our criminal justice system. Did you know that Alaska has the highest incarceration rate of any democracy in the world? It’s true! With an incarceration rate of 718 per 100,000, there are over 5,100 individuals behind bars. That breaks down to 4,300 in state prisons, 100 in local jails, 210 youth, 10 in involuntary commitment, and 510 in federal prison.

To make matters worse, certain racial groups are disproportionately represented in these numbers. For instance, Black and Indigenous populations are disproportionately represented in these numbers. While Indigenous populations account for 15% of the general population, they account for 38% of the incarcerated population. Black populations, which consist of 3% of the population, are similarly as dire and account for 7% of the incarnated population.

But it’s not just about being locked up; it’s also about the conditions inside. For example, prisoners are often paid meager wages for their work, with some earning as little as 30 cents an hour, which is well below the minimum wage. This not only perpetuates a cycle of poverty, but also raises ethical concerns about the exploitation of incarcerated individuals for cheap labor.

But its more than simple exploitation. The emotional toll of being undervalued and exploited can take a significant toll on incarcerated individuals’ mental health. Engaging in meaningful work is crucial to maintaining positive mental health and well-being, but the exploitative nature of prison labor can strip incarcerated individuals of this sense of purpose, leading to feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair.

In addition to the low wages, exorbitant prices for basic necessities can add up to an astronomical sum, making it difficult for prisoners to maintain contact with their loved ones. For instance, a 15-minute phone call can cost a staggering $3.15, which is prohibitively expensive for many inmates and their families. This financial burden can have a severe impact on prisoners’ mental health and social connections, potentially making it more difficult for them to reintegrate into society after their release by severing their external support network.

And it’s not just those who are incarcerated who are affected. There are also 6,500 people on probation and 1,700 on parole. Unfortunately, approximately 66% of these individuals experience recidivism within three years, among the highest in the nation. The high recidivism rate strains our criminal justice system and adversely impacts families and communities. On top of that, it places a significant financial burden on state and local budgets, for which we, as taxpayers, must foot the bill. In fact, the average cost of a recidivism event is a staggering $133,000 or, when accounting for the annual recidivism rate, approximately $720,000,000 which is a cost none of us can afford to bear.

This is just a small taste of what’s happening in our criminal justice system. It’s up to us to educate ourselves and fight for reforms that prioritize rehabilitation and support for those affected by the system.

Inside Out Storylab

The Inside Out Storylab increases access to quality participation in artistic exchanges for people inside and out of the carceral system. One goal of this program is to promote reading amongst all incarcerated Alaskans by distributing locally sourced and global content to an incarcerated, information-deprived community, “who struggle to find …

Introducing Ameelio!

Ameelio is a free-app that makes it super easy to send a letter to an incarcerated love one. Give it a try. We met with Ameelio in January. We learned that while they are focused on “ameliorating” a bad situation with their tool it doesn’t mean that they might …

February Den Meetings

Our 2021 Theme: Access. First, YOU, are invited. Whoever wants to connect to the many engaged volunteers, students, organizers working on access, we meet every Tuesday and Thursday from 9-11am at this Zoom link January involved multiple Bucket projects! We now have a basic logo that Naomi Hutchquist designed with …