The Alaska Department of Corrections plans to send hundreds of inmates out of state starting early next year. 

DOC Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom announced the department will be issuing a request for proposal soon during a teleconference with media outlets late Tuesday afternoon. She cited a growing prison population resulting from the passage of House Bill 49, which repealed and replaced the controversial Senate Bill 91. 

"I'm confident this is the best way to address our immediate population increases," she said in a prepared statement during the call. 

According to a fact sheet provided by the DOC, the maximum capacity of Alaska's institutions is 4,838. The DOC is currently operating at 97% of that capacity, according to Dahlstrom. 

"With the passage of HB 49, the Department projected an additional 728 inmates this fiscal year. Since July 2019 when the bill was signed into law, DOC has seen its population grow by approximately 250 inmates or five percent," a release from the DOC states. 

Dahlstrom said the move to transfer inmates to out of state facilities is one that will increase safety within Alaska's institutions and is anticipated to lower costs, but the DOC is not closing any facilities or issuing any layoffs. 

The request for proposal is set for a three-year contract with the possibility of an extension and would cover up to 750 prisoners. 

Dahlstrom said it addresses the concerns that came along with sending inmates outside in the past. 

"As written in the RFP, DOC is requiring all out of state facilities to provide rehabilitation and evidence-based programming comparable to what is offered in Alaska, as well as maintain our high standard of medical care. [...] A successful vendor will provide sufficient communication options for inmates to stay in touch with families, ensure Alaskan inmates are housed together and facilitate reentry measures for all offenders," the release states. 

Fiscal notes in HB 49 indicate the legislature's expectation was that the DOC would reopen the Palmer Correctional Center to accommodate the initial increase in population: 

"In the first year the department will need additional capacity for 421.0 inmates, for 736.6 inmates in the second year, 769.1 inmates in the third year, 770.4 inmates the fourth year, 778.1 inmates the fifth year, and 782.6 the sixth year. If the department’s projections are correct, it will need to reopen the currently shuttered Palmer Correctional Center (PCC) to accommodate the increased population. PCC has a general capacity of 503 inmates. In year two, when the department's projections show exceeding the capacity in all facilities including PCC, the department will explore alternative options."

Tuesday, Dahlstrom said that won't be happening. 

"The alternative option to reopen Palmer Correctional Center was not viable as it would have taken at least 12 months to bring online and required an additional 70 correctional officers be hired. Therefore, the Department is confident this request is the most immediate way to address this imminent population increase within DOC," the release states. 

The department's goal is to see the contract awarded to a successful bidder by the end of the year, with the transfer of inmates beginning in early 2020.  

According to the DOC, the criteria for inmates who will leave Alaska is still being developed, but they must have at least seven years remaining on their sentence. Inmates will be able to volunteer for a transfer or appeal it.  

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