Update on Prisoner Access Bill

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.

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