Legislature(2021 - 2022)GRUENBERG 120

03/23/2021 03:00 PM STATE AFFAIRS

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved CSHB 44(STA) Out of Committee
Heard & Held
-- Invited & Public Testimony --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**
         HB  118-EXPANDING PRISONER ACCESS TO COMPUTERS                                                                     
3:08:10 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS  announced that the final  order of business                                                               
would  be  HOUSE  BILL  NO.   118,  "An  Act  relating  to  state                                                               
identifications and driver's licenses  for persons in the custody                                                               
of the Department  of Corrections; relating to the  duties of the                                                               
commissioner of  corrections; relating  to living  conditions for                                                               
prisoners; and providing for an effective date."                                                                                
CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS invited questions from the committee.                                                                      
3:09:33 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE KAUFMAN expressed his  continued concern about the                                                               
execution of the  bill as it pertains to safety  and security and                                                               
whether  [the tablets]  could be  safely "sandboxed"  to mitigate                                                               
potential negative effects.                                                                                                     
3:10:43 PM                                                                                                                    
LAURA  BROOKS, Division  Operations Manager,  Division of  Health                                                               
and   Rehabilitation   Services,   Department   of   Corrections,                                                               
explained  that  the  tablets  are  created  with  a  multi-layer                                                               
security  matrix  and tested  in  much  larger [facilities]  than                                                               
Alaska's; additionally, they are  equipped with a secure platform                                                               
that  only allows  access to  approved content  while prohibiting                                                               
access to  personal settings and  the internet.  While  there are                                                               
specific  programs  that  could  be downloaded,  she  said,  [the                                                               
tablets] would not provide direct  access to anything outside the                                                               
secure network.   She added that  the tablets are designed  to be                                                               
tamper-proof and to meet correctional safety standards.                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE  KAUFMAN  asked  whether   the  tablets  are  sole                                                               
sourced  from a  specific  brand  or vendor,  or  if  they are  a                                                               
commodity item.  He inquired about the supply chain.                                                                            
MS. BROOKS  reported that  only a handful  of vendors  supply the                                                               
tablets  to  correctional  centers.    She  reiterated  that  the                                                               
vendors  have years  of  experience  with [correctional]  systems                                                               
larger than Alaska's.   She explained that [the  tablets] are not                                                               
widely accessible,  adding that  they are built  specifically for                                                               
the correctional  environment by  vendors that are  familiar with                                                               
the safety and security practices of correctional facilities.                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE KAUFMAN asked for the name of the supplier.                                                                      
MS. BROOKS offered to follow up with the requested information.                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE  EASTMAN  sought  to clarify  whether  the  tablet                                                               
hardware or software is built for the correctional environment.                                                                 
MS. BROOKS  answered both.   She explained  that the  tablets are                                                               
designed to be tamper-proof;  additionally, the included software                                                               
is specific to correctional safety standards.                                                                                   
3:14:13 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  EASTMAN  inquired   about  the  repercussions  of                                                               
tampering with a tablet.                                                                                                        
MS. BROOKS  said currently, there  are no policies  or procedures                                                               
for electronic devices.   She conveyed that  the department plans                                                               
on  developing policies  specific to  the bill.   She  noted that                                                               
there are sanctions  and a disciplinary process  for inmates that                                                               
misuse  materials for  hobby craft,  adding that  DOC anticipates                                                               
implementing similar policy for the tablets.                                                                                    
3:15:12 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   VANCE  questioned   how  the   department  would                                                               
immediately [implement the  bill] without the tablets.   She also                                                               
inquired about  the anticipated demand.   Additionally, she asked                                                               
Ms. Brooks to  explain how the bill would work  within the prison                                                               
system and what the plans are for the future.                                                                                   
MS.  BROOKS stated  that there  are  numerous available  options,                                                               
including paperless  access for grievances,  commissary requests,                                                               
medical requests,  and access to medical  records.  Additionally,                                                               
educational  content, access  to  the law  library, and  e-books.                                                               
She  said that  would  all  be developed  along  with policy  and                                                               
procedure for inmate  access.  Regarding immediate  use, she said                                                               
the bill, as  it's currently written, would  allow the department                                                               
to provide additional access.   She offered the example of access                                                               
to GED services, which would be supervised by staff.                                                                            
3:17:40 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  VANCE inquired  about the  fiscal impact,  asking                                                               
how many tablets would be needed.                                                                                               
MS. BROOKS  said most of  the vendors provide the  tablets, which                                                               
come with preapproved  content and services.  She  noted that the                                                               
fee structures vary depending on the vendor.                                                                                    
3:18:39 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  CLAMAN  referenced   a  website,  gtl.net,  which                                                               
professes   to   transform    correctional   facilities   through                                                               
technology.   He  surmised that  there are  many businesses  that                                                               
provide  services to  the correctional  industry nationwide.   He                                                               
asked if  in addition  to tablets,  there are  numerous providers                                                               
that  focus  their services  on  the  correctional industry  both                                                               
public and private.                                                                                                             
MS. BROOKS  shared her understanding  that there are a  number of                                                               
vendors  that  provide a  variety  of  services specific  to  the                                                               
correctional environment  whether it  be tablets or  MP3 players.                                                               
She reported that there is  a correctional market and vendors who                                                               
cater to that niche.                                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN  asked if that  holds true for  things like                                                               
medical  services  and   medical  records.    He   asked  if  the                                                               
department often  contracts with  vendors that  offer specialized                                                               
services for corrections.                                                                                                       
MS. BROOKS  confirmed.   She said  the department  identified the                                                               
importance  of purchasing  an electronic  health record  that was                                                               
not built  for a  hospital or a  clinic.  She  added that  in the                                                               
future,  the  department would  look  to  purchase an  electronic                                                               
health record  that is specific  to the  correctional environment                                                               
to meet specific needs.                                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN asked  if the reason that DOC  had not gone                                                               
further in  implementing computer  access for inmates  is because                                                               
the current statute flatly prohibits it.                                                                                        
MS. BROOKS answered yes, that is a big part of it.                                                                              
3:21:47 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE STORY asked how the  tablets would provide inmates                                                               
with updated skills for success after release.                                                                                  
MS. BROOKS  explained that when  DOC works on  further developing                                                               
its reentry  unit or  education in  its vocational  programs, the                                                               
department  looks to  reach the  inmates  in a  variety of  ways,                                                               
including   classroom  instruction   and  self-study   materials.                                                               
Further,  she acknowledged  that there  are other  ways to  reach                                                               
them  via  tablet,  such as  educational  courses,  instructional                                                               
videos,  study material,  and reentry  courses.   She shared  the                                                               
example of videos  that show offenders who  released to community                                                               
successfully  and offer  first-person advice.   She  said regular                                                               
access to that type of video  could be an important part of DOC's                                                               
reentry program  expansion.   Additionally, the  department could                                                               
assist  offenders in  applying for  Medicaid  through the  tablet                                                               
process, she suggested.                                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE STORY  questioned whether  the tablets  would have                                                               
the capacity to  provide vocational skills in the  IT field, such                                                               
as coding.                                                                                                                      
MS. BROOKS  pointed out  that DOC  would have  to be  cautious in                                                               
offering IT training.   She said many prisoners who  have been in                                                               
the system for  an extended period of time are  not familiar with                                                               
computers and cannot  apply for jobs online.   She suggested that                                                               
the tablets could help with  that by providing a simulated online                                                               
job  application   that  could  teach   them  how  to   fill  out                                                               
applications for the future.                                                                                                    
3:25:42 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  characterized correctional  facilities  as                                                               
time  capsules, such  that people  who  were incarcerated  before                                                               
widespread   internet  access   could   be   reentering  into   a                                                               
digitalized world that  is foreign to them.  He  asked Ms. Brooks                                                               
to speak to the reentry of inmates who served longer terms.                                                                     
MS. BROOKS  reflected on inmates,  both in custody  and released,                                                               
who talk about the struggle  of transitioning from no electronics                                                               
to  applying   for  jobs  and  scheduling   appointments  online.                                                               
Although the tablets would not  allow access to the internet, she                                                               
said,  there are  simulations that  could allow  practice without                                                               
direct access  to the  internet.  She  discussed how  the tablets                                                               
could help inmates recognize future  challenges by offering real-                                                               
world  advice  from individuals  who  had  been incarcerated  and                                                               
overcame obstacles after release.                                                                                               
3:28:27 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS  asked for  a  scenario  wherein DOC  would                                                               
provide  tablet  use  for interpersonal  communication  with  the                                                               
outside world via text or email.                                                                                                
MS. BROOKS  said the department  has not entertained  that option                                                               
at this  stage; however,  she noted  that there  are correctional                                                               
systems that offer  "email-type" access.  She  explained that the                                                               
programs  designed for  the  tablets have  an  algorithm that  is                                                               
intended to  identify high-risk words  and phrases that  could be                                                               
code or  gang related.   She said  the algorithms  are constantly                                                               
evolving to  ensure that  messages are screened  and sent  to the                                                               
correct recipient - similar to  the screening of handwritten mail                                                               
that leaves facilities.  She emphasized  that DOC is not ready to                                                               
explore that option.                                                                                                            
3:30:25 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  KAUFMAN asked  if the  department had  considered                                                               
any performance metrics  that could measure the  success of these                                                               
MS. BROOKS  maintained that  transitioning to  paperless requests                                                               
could save  time for  staff and expedite  processes.   She stated                                                               
that there are likely numerous  performance indicators that could                                                               
identify benefits and efficiencies for the department.                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE KAUFMAN  urged the  department to consider  how to                                                               
measure the success of inmate  release to ensure that the program                                                               
is benefiting the  department.  He suggested  considering the big                                                               
picture and the  desired "core achievement" to  ensure that these                                                               
programs are delivering benefit for the cost incurred.                                                                          
3:32:35 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS surmised  that  recidivism would  be a  key                                                               
indicator.  He asked if that is correct.                                                                                        
MS. BROOKS replied that [recidivism]  is an indicator of numerous                                                               
factors.   She expressed  her hope  that if  additional education                                                               
and  reentry   services  could  be  provided,   recidivism  would                                                               
decline.   She expounded that  during the COVID-19  pandemic, DOC                                                               
learned  that  access  to outside  treatment  providers,  reentry                                                               
coalitions, and case managers is  critical.  She said without in-                                                               
person  contact it  becomes difficult  to connect  individuals to                                                               
the outside [world].                                                                                                            
3:33:51 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  TARR expressed  her support  for the  bill.   She                                                               
related that many neighbors in  her district had been impacted by                                                               
the  criminal justice  system.   She shared  a personal  anecdote                                                               
about  the importance  of reentry  services.   Additionally,  she                                                               
emphasized  that  many  individuals  in state  custody  are  from                                                               
disadvantaged backgrounds  and were victims  themselves; further,                                                               
those individuals  many have not had  opportunities to education,                                                               
job  training, or  resume writing.   She  opined that  to further                                                               
deny them the opportunity to make the most of life is wrong.                                                                    
3:35:58 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE STORY inquired about  Mr. Habeger's vision for the                                                               
3:36:34 PM                                                                                                                    
DON  HABEGER, Community  Coordinator,  Juneau Reentry  Coalition,                                                               
explained that  coalitions are interested in  improving state law                                                               
to allow for "continued access."   He expressed his hope that the                                                               
tablets  could  provide  improved access  so  that  interpersonal                                                               
connection could be brought to  fruition.  He offered the example                                                               
of helping  a releasing  inmate to prepare  for a  job interview,                                                               
which could be accomplished through this improved access.                                                                       
3:38:36 PM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  STORY asked  whether the  reentry coalitions  use                                                               
performance metrics to measure success.                                                                                         
MR.  HABEGER  answered  yes.   He  explained  that  reentry  case                                                               
managers work with  the Department of Health  and Social Services                                                               
(DHSS)  to track  successes  [and failures]  for  each person  on                                                               
their  case  loads.    He  stated his  hope  that  in  time,  the                                                               
coalition would have  a robust statewide data  set that indicates                                                               
what works and what does not.                                                                                                   
3:40:27 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS opened public testimony.                                                                                   
3:40:54 PM                                                                                                                    
KATIE BOTZ expressed her opposition to  HB 118.  She reflected on                                                               
her  personal  experience  as  a victim  of  sexual  assault  and                                                               
expressed concern about the possibility  of an offender accessing                                                               
[the internet]  from prison.  She  stated her belief that  if the                                                               
tablet security could be bypassed,  prisoners would find a way to                                                               
do  that.   Should the  bill  pass, she  recommended that  tablet                                                               
usage only be allowed in  a controlled environment rather than in                                                               
individual cells.  She urged  the legislature to exercise caution                                                               
and to be victim oriented.                                                                                                      
3:46:18 PM                                                                                                                    
CHRISTINA LOVE stated her support for  HB 118.  She reported that                                                               
each  week,  about 10,000  people  are  released from  state  and                                                               
federal  prison  facilities  in  the U.S.    She  explained  that                                                               
successful  reintegration  depends on  how  quickly  one can  get                                                               
valid identification.   She said  it's a major hurdle,  which has                                                               
only become  more burdensome  during the  pandemic.   She pointed                                                               
out  that  when  people  are incarcerated  for  long  terms,  the                                                               
government ID may no longer  be valid upon release.  Nonetheless,                                                               
identification  is needed  for basic  life  necessities, such  as                                                               
housing, employment, medical  care, banking, government benefits,                                                               
and food programs.  She went  on to state that digital technology                                                               
in Alaska's  prison system has  been a huge hurdle  for providing                                                               
higher  education, which  is an  important factor  in prevention.                                                               
In conclusion, she reiterated her support for HB 118.                                                                           
3:48:01 PM                                                                                                                    
LINDA  SETTERBERG,   Community  Coordinator,   Fairbanks  Reentry                                                               
Coalition, expressed her support for  HB 118.  She emphasized the                                                               
importance of  community connection and access  to technology for                                                               
individuals  releasing from  incarceration.    She reported  that                                                               
many  [prisoners]  do not  have  basic  computer skills  and  are                                                               
unable  to  access  treatment   providers,  telehealth,  or  zoom                                                               
meetings,  which can  be components  of treatment  after release.                                                               
She  shared a  personal anecdote  about the  importance of  phone                                                               
calls with her son who was  incarcerated.  She said regular phone                                                               
calls helped his mental health.   She reported that the Fairbanks                                                               
Reentry Coalition's  recidivism rate is  at 11 percent  among the                                                               
200 individuals who have participated in its program.                                                                           
3:50:41 PM                                                                                                                    
CARMEN  LOWDRY, Executive  Director, Alaska  Network on  Domestic                                                               
Violence  and Sexual  Assault  (ANDVSA),  informed the  committee                                                               
that  ANDVSA  is the  ferally  recognized  domestic violence  and                                                               
sexual assault coalition in the state.   She added that ANDVSA is                                                               
a   membership-based  organization   that  is   governed  by   23                                                               
community-based  domestic violence  and sexual  assault agencies.                                                               
She  expressed support  of efforts  to  ensure that  incarcerated                                                               
individuals  who  are  reentering communities  have  the  skills,                                                               
support, and access to do  so [successfully].  She questioned why                                                               
the language  "and may  not be  used for  any other  purpose" was                                                               
deleted  from [Section  4, Subparagraph  (I)].   She shared  that                                                               
when  people  leave  incarceration,  they  sometimes  attempt  to                                                               
contact former victims.   She shared her belief  that the deleted                                                               
language was  a "safeguard" for  victims because it  ensured that                                                               
the access to tablets would  be contained within those areas that                                                               
actually  facilitated  rehabilitation  of  the case  plan.    She                                                               
recommended keeping that deleted language.                                                                                      
3:54:31 PM                                                                                                                    
BARBARA MONGAR, Coalition  Coordinator, Mat-Su Reentry Coalition,                                                               
informed  the   committee  that  the  Mat-Su   Reentry  Coalition                                                               
consists   of   a   collaboration   of   individuals,   community                                                               
stakeholders, nonprofit agencies, and  business partners that are                                                               
united  and  committed  to  reducing  recidivism  among  citizens                                                               
returning  to the  Matsu.   She  expressed support  for the  bill                                                               
expanding allowable use of inmate  access to computers to include                                                               
reentry  planning, healthcare,  visitation,  and legal  reference                                                               
material.   She  reported that  due to  COVID-19, case  managers'                                                               
access to  the prisons was cut  off.  That access,  she said, was                                                               
to help  prisoners start reentry planning,  which increased their                                                               
chances of success after release.                                                                                               
3:56:09 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  KREISS-TOMKINS closed  public testimony.   In  Response to                                                               
Ms.  Lowdry's question  [pertaining  to the  deleted language  in                                                               
Section 4, Subparagraph (I)], he  read the following remarks from                                                               
     The language deals  with what can be  offered in inmate                                                                    
     [sic] via  programming.  If the  language remains, then                                                                    
     the department  is restricted  to offering  the inmates                                                                    
     the programs only listed in  the bill.  If the language                                                                    
     is  removed, then  it allows  the department  to adjust                                                                    
     programming  with  the  times.   As  you  know,  things                                                                    
     change all the time, and  we would like the flexibility                                                                    
     to do  so.  It  doesn't directly deal with  victims and                                                                    
     the  department  remains  vigilant  in  protecting  all                                                                    
     crime victims.                                                                                                             
[HB 118 was held over.]                                                                                                         

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
HB 44 Legal Services Memo 3-17-2021.pdf HL&C 5/3/2021 3:15:00 PM
HL&C 5/12/2021 3:15:00 PM
HSTA 3/23/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 44
HB 118 Letter of Support - Rhoades 3.18.21.pdf HSTA 3/23/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 118
HB 118 Letter of Support - ANC Reentry Coalition - Pistotnik 3.17.21.pdf HSTA 3/23/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 118
HB 118 Additional Info - DOC Response to Committee Question 3.22.21.pdf HSTA 3/23/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 118
HB 44 Fiscal Note DCCED 3.5.21.pdf HSTA 3/23/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 44
HB 118 Letter of Support - AMHB.ABADA 3.22.21.pdf HSTA 3/23/2021 3:00:00 PM
HB 118