Legislature(2021 - 2022)GRUENBERG 120
04/27/2021 03:00 PM STATE AFFAIRS
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HB 118-EXPANDING PRISONER ACCESS TO COMPUTERS 3:56:58 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that the next 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, prime sponsor of HB 118, reminded the committee that the proposed legislation had been amended in the previous hearing [4/1/21]; however, after conversations with committee members and additional collaboration between his and Representative Vance's offices, he would be reopening the amendment process. 3:57:57 PM REPRESENTATIVE VANCE moved to adopt [Amendment 1], labeled 32- LS0024\B.6, Radford, 4/19/21, which read: Page 6, line 26, following "care": Insert "but may not be used to directly access the Internet by computer terminal or other automated means not requiring the assistance of or intervention by another person" REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN objected. 3:58:01 PM REPRESENTATIVE VANCE thanked the chair for accommodating her questions and concerns. She conveyed that she had spoken with the Department of Corrections (DOC) about its intention for providing access to computers. She explained that the proposed amendment specified that inmates may not directly access the Internet, indicating that the computers would only be utilized for rehabilitation and the purposes specifically outlined in the bill. CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS attested to Representative Vance's work with the department [on Amendment 1]. 3:59:27 PM The committee took a brief at-ease. 3:59:40 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS noted that the department would be available shortly. He said he could relay both written and verbal correspondence that confirmed that the department was aware of Amendment 1 and had no objection to it. 4:00:17 PM REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN directed attention to Section 4, subparagraph (I), on page 6 of HB 118, which addressed prisoners' access to computers and specified the rules of compliance. He asked why that subsection needed further clarification. REPRESENTATIVE VANCE indicated that the goal of Amendment 1 was to establish consistency across every correctional agency rather than each facility abiding by different criteria. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN expressed concern that different facilities would have different needs and that the proposed language would restrict their ability to make reasonable decisions regarding the appropriate access for each facility. 4:01:53 PM REPRESENTATIVE VANCE relayed that the language in Amendment 1 was written by [DOC] to capture their intent for providing computer access, such as employment, and education. She understood that the proposed language would not prohibit "the activities that they feel that they need moving forward." CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS inquired about the agency's position on Amendment 1. 4:03:24 PM LAURA BROOKS, Division Operations Manager, Division of Health and Rehab Services, DOC, explained that concerns had been raised about how inmates might access the internet; therefore, the language in Amendment 1 was intending to clarify that there may be occasions in which an offender could access the internet, but only with staff supervision. She considered the example of the electronic Medicaid application process, adding that an inmate would only be eligible to do that under the direct supervision of a staff member. Otherwise, the computers/tablets would be channeled through a secure platform that would not allow direct access to the Internet. 4:04:57 PM REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN understood that the existing language in subsection (I) provided DOC with the authority to regulate the allowable access. He asked whether Ms. Brooks agreed. MS. BROOKS said, "That's correct." REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN concluded that in the past, the goal was to limit computer access in prisons; however, as time went on, the lack of computer access in prisons hurt the inmates' ability to engage in reform programs. He maintained his concern that the language in the proposed amendment regarding staff supervision may not be necessary in the future due to advances in technology. He said he could understand some of the interest in this precaution today but given the slowness with which the legislature made adaptations to realities on the ground, he believed the language in Amendment 1 would be overly restrictive going forward. He opined that presently, staff supervision was an appropriate inclusion under subsection (I); however, by requiring it in statute, DOC would not be able to easily dispense with it. MS. BROOKS acknowledged his concern about tying the department's hands. However, she said she could not foresee a time when DOC would provide inmates with access to the Internet due to the potential of them accessing victims. She believed that given the anticipated programming, the language in Amendment 1 was appropriate because it would allow the department to provide supervision when an inmate needed access to something that required internet access. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN questioned what would happen if an application for benefits required internet access. He surmised that the language in Amendment 1 would require that the inmate be supervised while filling out the application. MS. BROOKS confirmed that it would require that level of supervision. 4:08:50 PM REPRESENTATIVE EASTMAN asked why DOC would object to an inmate having access to the internet aside from the concern about contacting victims. MS. BROOKS said there were many security concerns that she did not want to mention publicly. She conveyed that primarily, allowing internet access would be a serious breach of security due to the massive amount of information available online. REPRESENTATIVE EASTMAN asked whether the department was concerned that in five years, inmates would have increased tools and techniques for hacking and could misuse the internet access should they ever achieve it. MS. BROOKS replied, "That's probably always a concern." She reiterated that the department wanted to ensure that if the tablets were used for accessing the Internet, the access would be well supervised. REPRESENTATIVE EASTMAN inquired about "the intervention," which was referenced in Amendment 1. MS. BROOKS stated that the intervention would be a "side-by-side review," meaning that a medical social worker or institutional probation officer would sit with the inmate while he/she completed the paperwork. 4:11:02 PM REPRESENTATIVE KAUFMAN asked whether the language "intervention by another person" was too broad. MS. BROOKS acknowledged that possibility. She reiterated that the department's goal was to make the proposed legislation safe; therefore, if the committee felt that the wording needed to be adjusted, DOC would not object. She explained that the department wanted to ensure that the use [of tablets] would be available for the intended purpose of rehabilitation and that they would be protected and confined to only that purpose. 4:12:14 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS expressed his surprise that there seemed to be a sense that DOC did not recognize the obvious: that no one wanted inmates contacting victims. He assured the committee that if a victim were to be contacted, the commissioner would be replaced, as it would be a career-ending public relations (PR) story. He emphasized that Ms. Brooks and Commissioner Dahlstrom knew that, and the committee should know that too. He pointed out that the verbiage could be endlessly litigated, but the commonsense understanding should be the accepted assumption that there would be no circumstance in which DOC would allow prisoners to freely communicate with victims or anyone else via the Internet. REPRESENTATIVE KAUFMAN said he had no distrust in his heart. He explained that he had wanted to know whether additional wording would clarify the amendment. 4:14:08 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR referenced a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alaska [included in the committee packet], which read [original punctuation provided]: Providing meaningful access to technology is arguably more important than establishing statutory permission to do so. There is, for instance, nothing in HB 118 to require DOC to meet certain standards for computer access, and nothing to permit DOC from arbitrarily restricting access to computers. REPRESENTATIVE TARR highlighted the importance of reentry services for successful reintegration in the community; further, she said [reentry services] were deeply meaningful for the continuation of addiction treatment, for example. She shared her understanding that the proposed legislation would provide a critical service. She believed that on one end, access should be restricted to protect victims, while on the other end, there should be meaningful access to allow for the provision of services and the best opportunity for success upon release into the community. CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS concurred. 4:15:58 PM REPRESENTATIVE VANCE thanked DOC for collaborating on the language in Amendment 1. She explained that her goal was to clarify the statutory intent for legal matters and to "maintain the public trust." She believed that the legislature's primary obligation was to ensure the public's safety and that providing rehabilitation came second to that; further, she said that the legislature lived in the middle ground of providing both. She stated that she wanted to make it clear to the public that the intent was not to allow unbridled access to the internet and that computer access would be specific to reentry needs. 4:17:25 PM REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN opposed the language in Amendment 1. He believed that the intent was well-taken but that the language was confusing. He said he had great confidence that DOC would only approve what was appropriate and that the existing language in HB 118 provided all the necessary direction. He added that he completely agreed with the chair's comments and believed that it would be a mistake to include restrictions that would hinder the already challenging efforts of rehabilitation. He reiterated that he did not support Amendment 1 because DOC had all the necessary authority to restrict access; further, that the department already did that exceptionally well. He further noted that under the Constitution of the State of Alaska, one purpose for criminal justice administration was not higher than other. He added that rehabilitation was one of several goals, all of which were to be balanced equally or appropriately depending on the circumstances of the person, victim, or crime. CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS considered the scenario posed by Representative Claman in which the platform would only allow access to one URL, such as the Medicaid enrollment website, and there would be zero percent chance of contacting a victim or performing other nefarious activity. He asked Ms. Brooks whether an inmate would be directly supervised in that scenario if accessing that one URL was in was in the best interest of his/her rehabilitation or reform. MS. BROOKS believed that it was the department's first duty to protect the public and that rehabilitation and reentry fell below that. She said if the committee wanted to make changes to the wording it would be a policy call. She reemphasized that DOC would protect the public to the best of its ability while providing this computer access. CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS pointed out that in the aforementioned scenario there would be a zero percent chance of jeopardizing public safety because of the technical platform being utilized. He asked whether direct supervision would be ideal if the inmates were doing something for their reform or rehabilitation and the risk was mitigated to zero. MS. BROOKS said having staff supervise that type of access would be the safest route. She said she did not know if there could ever be a zero percent chance [of risk]; therefore, staff supervision would be required to mitigate as much risk as possible. 4:22:22 PM REPRESENTATIVE EASTMAN, recalling his previous experience in law enforcement, said he didn't know that there would ever be a warden or prison supervisor who would be able to make an affirmation of zero percent risk. He said that level of certainty was not realistic with today's technology. 4:23:54 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKIN believed that ultimately, it came down to how much [the legislature] trusted DOC to do its job well. He added that he trusted the department's personnel to evaluate those risks. He announced that HB 118 was held over.