Legislature(1995 - 1996)

02/12/1996 01:30 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                 SB 175 "NO FRILLS" PRISON ACT                                
 SENATOR DAVE DONLEY, sponsor of SB 175, gave the following                    
 overview.  SB 175 is modelled after the federal "No Frills" Prison            
 Act and was introduced last year.  Since that time, he has worked             
 extensively with the Department of Corrections which resulted in              
 the introduction of a sponsor substitute.                                     
 SENATOR GREEN moved adoption of the sponsor substitute for the                
 purpose of discussion.  There being no objection, the motion                  
 SENATOR DONLEY continued.  Section 2 deals with the problem of the            
 cost of medical care for prisoners by amending the definition of              
 "severely medically disabled" to give the parole board greater                
 flexibility in granting special medical paroles.   The state                  
 currently bears a huge cost for terminally ill prisoners and                  
 prisoners with severely handicapping illnesses.                               
 Number 161                                                                    
 SENATOR TAYLOR questioned whether similar legislation passed last             
 year.  SENATOR DONLEY replied affirmatively, however this bill                
 allows the Department of Corrections more discretion in determining           
 what conditions would make one eligible for special medical                   
 SENATOR DONLEY explained Section 3 allows the Department of                   
 Corrections more flexibility in attempting to recoup ordinary                 
 medical costs of prisoners and part of the cost of injuries to                
 prisoners due to activities of law enforcers, not only corrections            
 Section 4 statutorily limits what the Commissioner may provide to             
 inmates, and is patterned after the federal act.  Living conditions           
 and recreational opportunities could not exceed that required under           
 the U.S. Constitution.  Living quarters could not be obstructed               
 from view.  The food could not exceed the quantity or quality                 
 required by the U.S. Constitution.  The original standard in the              
 federal law is that the food must not exceed the quality available            
 to the armed forces.  The department finds it too difficult to                
 ascertain that quality.                                                       
 SENATOR DONLEY discussed the ban on cable television.  He and                 
 Department of Corrections' staff have drafted an amendment to allow           
 basic cable service.  Prisoners are currently allowed access to the           
 full spectrum of cable television, if they pay for it.  Section 4             
 also limits unmonitored phone calls, and bans the following:                  
 televisions and computers in cells; movies with specific ratings;             
 pornographic material; instructional material that, in the opinion            
 of the Commissioner, would facilitate violent behavior; body                  
 building equipment; and electrical cooking appliances in cells.               
 Prisoners would be allowed to use a computer provided by the                  
 facility in a common area as part of employment or vocational                 
 Section 5 references the effort to recoup medical costs.  Section             
 6 allows the department to engage in vocational training for                  
 inmates.  The department is currently unable to provide jobs for              
 all inmates; providing training would enable them to expand job               
 skills and opportunities.  Section 7 sets a sunset date of 2005 for           
 the Correctional Industries Commission.  The extension would allow            
 the department to develop a stable, long range plan to develop                
 marketable products and work opportunities.                                   
 Number 180                                                                    
 SENATOR ADAMS disagreed with four provisions:  the cable TV ban;              
 the weightlifting equipment ban; the printed material ban; and the            
 restriction on televisions and computers in private cells.  He felt           
 those provisions could be used to reward good behavior.                       
 SENATOR DONLEY made the following comments in response to Senator             
 Adams' opposition.  He originally opposed access to any cable                 
 television but is now convinced there is a valid argument to                  
 provide some level of television to keep peace in the prisons.  He            
 is discontent with the current limit of five books per prisoner, as           
 opposed to unlimited television viewing.  He strongly disagrees               
 with allowing televisions and computers in individual cells because           
 in a prison the only application should be educational, and in a              
 common area.  He felt access to a common area could be used as an             
 incentive for good behavior, rather than allowing equipment in                
 private cells.  In his opinion, Alaska has some of the most liberal           
 good time provisions in the nation therefore the incentive for good           
 behavior already exists.  He believes providing weightlifting                 
 equipment poses a danger to the private sector because                        
 weightlifting equipment is not a tool to improve health, it is a              
 tool to make people superior athletes or better predators.                    
 Regarding the printed materials, the Commissioner has discretion              
 over which materials to ban.  The provision is aimed at banning               
 magazines that encourage violent or predatory behavior.                       
 Number 270                                                                    
 JERRY SHRINER, Special Assistant to the Commissioner of the                   
 Department of Corrections, indicated he and Senator Donley have               
 worked together extensively on SB 175.  They compromised on most              
 areas of disagreement but remain in disagreement about televisions            
 and computers.                                                                
 SENATOR ADAMS asked what equipment is currently available in prison           
 facilities.  MR. SHRINER replied it varies considerably by                    
 facility.  Some facilities have fixed-weight systems without free             
 weights, other facilities have free weights, some are purchased by            
 prisoners, others are purchased by the facility.                              
 Number 300                                                                    
 SENATOR ADAMS inquired about the number of televisions and personal           
 computers in prisons.  MR. SHRINER reported most facilities have an           
 inmate council which can purchase certain things with private                 
 funds.  At the Palmer facility the council has installed and                  
 maintains cable service.  Those prisoners who can afford to have a            
 television may have one in their own rooms.  At some prisons, the             
 department pays for cable service because no local broadcast                  
 SENATOR ADAMS asked if prisoners are able to view "X," "R," and               
 "NC-17" movies on cable television.  MR. SHRINER was unsure whether           
 movies with those ratings are shown on premium cable channels.  He            
 added the Lemon Creek facility has premium cable which inmates pay            
 SENATOR ADAMS asked how many prisoners have personal computers.               
 MR. SHRINER replied the number varies in each prison, but those               
 that have computers cannot hook up to outside lines, such as a fax            
 modem, and discs cannot enter or leave the facilities.                        
 SENATOR ADAMS asked what the Department's position is on his                  
 objections to the bill.  MR. SHRINER replied the Department would             
 not object to eliminating free weights, but has no desire to do so.           
 With respect to television and computers, the greatest resistance             
 comes from superintendents who unanimously view those activities as           
 a method of managing population.  Because of the high ratio of                
 inmates to prison guards, televisions and computers are used to               
 keep prisoners occupied.                                                      
 Number 360                                                                    
 SENATOR TAYLOR asked if there are any court orders the prisons must           
 abide by requiring prisoner access to television.  MR. SHRINER was            
 not able to provide that information.                                         
 SENATOR MILLER moved to adopt Senator Donley's amendment (9-                  
 LS0958\0.4).  There being no objection, the motion carried.                   
 SENATOR ADAMS moved a proposed amendment to page 4, line 16.                  
 After the word facility insert, "or allowed under (B) of this                 
 subdivision;".  SENATOR MILLER objected to the motion for                     
 discussion purposes.  SENATOR GREEN asked Senator Donley to repeat            
 his rationale for banning computers in cells.                                 
 SENATOR DONLEY explained that under SSSB 175, prisoners would have            
 access to computers in common areas but could not have private                
 computers.  He stated computers are entertaining and a luxury item.           
 SENATOR GREEN verified computers cannot be hooked up to any outside           
 services.  SENATOR DONLEY replied they cannot, however there is               
 nothing in statute that speaks to that.                                       
 SENATOR GREEN asked about the cost of allowing personal computers             
 in prisons.  SENATOR DONLEY believed the only cost is to provide              
 power, therefore is minimal.  He added the things that are being              
 limited in this bill are not necessities.  He strongly encouraged             
 full access to library materials.                                             
 Number 443                                                                    
 SENATOR ELLIS asked Senator Donley if his goal would be achieved if           
 only educational software were allowed in prisons.  He also                   
 questioned the rationale for the limit of 5 books per prisoner.               
 SENATOR DONLEY replied the rationale for the limit on books is that           
 it is very time consuming to search books for concealed items.   He           
 believed as long as computers are limited to common areas, there              
 use can be limited to educational programs.  It would be impossible           
 to search hard drives on personal computers for concealed programs.           
 SENATOR ELLIS asked how realistic it is to think prisoners would              
 get their GED's via educational software, and whether the common              
 area plan would restrict prisoners from doing so.  SENATOR DONLEY             
 responded that school children do not have enough access to                   
 computers.  He felt unlimited access to written materials should be           
 Number 455                                                                    
 SENATOR ELLIS inquired about using such equipment in each facility            
 for social control as opposed to allowing the use of such equipment           
 for recreational purposes.  SENATOR DONLEY believed prison                    
 employees want the prison environment to be safe and to run                   
 smoothly, however the prison environment was meant to be a                    
 deterrent to illegal behavior.                                                
 SENATOR ADAMS asked what percentage of prisoners use computers in             
 their cells.  SENATOR DONLEY thought the percentage to be very                
 small, but could increase quickly unless statutorily stopped.  MR.            
 SHRINER agreed the number is very low.                                        
 Number 493                                                                    
 SENATOR GREEN discussed Senator Adams' second proposed amendment,             
 changing SSSB 175 on page 3, line 29, to add, "except as approved             
 by the facility superintendent for purposes of educational training           
 or reward for positive behavior."  The proposed amendment would               
 leave the use of televisions and computers to the discretion of the           
 warden.  SENATOR DONLEY repeated his opposition to allowing such              
 equipment in private rooms.  He believes Alaska prisons are very              
 liberal in regard to good time, and other rewards can be offered              
 for positive behavior.                                                        
 SENATOR ADAMS moved and asked unanimous consent that he be allowed            
 to withdraw his previous motion to amend page 4.  There being no              
 objection, the motion carried.                                                
 SENATOR ADAMS moved new amendment #1 (page 3, line 29).  SENATOR              
 MILLER objected for the purpose of discussion.                                
 Number 524                                                                    
 SENATOR TAYLOR discussed the sentencing approach used in the                  
 Australian judicial system.  Prisoners given the maximum prison               
 term are expected to display positive behavior, if they do not,               
 their terms are extended.                                                     
 SENATOR DONLEY felt there is a national movement toward tougher               
 prison policies.  Three states have reinstituted chain gangs.  The            
 public wants prisoners to have the opportunity to pull themselves             
 up and get an education, however they do not want them to have a              
 good time.                                                                    
 SENATOR GREEN questioned how this bill would affect Project Hope,             
 at Pt. McKenzie.  SENATOR DONLEY believed Project Hope raises                 
 problems far beyond the scope of this bill.  The Department of                
 Corrections is apprehensive about prisoners trying to invoke all of           
 the Clary conditions onto this volunteer program and fears                    
 prisoners will try to impose, through the courts, other things                
 available to people who do not volunteer.                                     
 SENATOR ELLIS questioned whether the ban on televisions and                   
 computers would apply to Project Hope, if the bill becomes law.               
 SENATOR DONLEY specified they could not have them in private rooms.           
 SENATOR GREEN commented Project Hope has common areas that are more           
 home like.  She also expressed concern that minimal farming is                
 occurring there.                                                              
 SENATOR DONLEY noted SSSB 175 provides more flexibility for the               
 Correction Industries Commission.  It is difficult to find work               
 that does not compete with the private sector.  If an industry is             
 viable, it is being developed by the private sector.  The federal             
 act mandated a certain number of hours of work, however the work is           
 not available for prisoners to do.                                            
 SENATOR GREEN did not feel vegetable farming at Project Hope would            
 compete with private industry.                                                
 SENATOR MILLER maintained his objection to adoption of amendment              
 voting "nay," and Senators Ellis and Adams voting "yea."                      
 SENATOR TAYLOR recommended establishing standards so that a                   
 prisoner working on a specific program might be able to do so                 
 privately.  SENATOR MILLER felt the amendment was entirely too                
 broad.  SENATOR ADAMS commented that 49 percent of inmates are                
 Alaska minorities who do not have the money for televisions and               
 computers and believed the amendment would primarily benefit urban            
 prisoners with educational and vocational training.  SENATOR TAYLOR           
 stated he is interested in resolving the issue with Senator Donley            
 and the Department of Corrections.                                            
 SENATOR MILLER moved SSSB 175, as amended, out of committee with              
 individual recommendations.  There being no objection, the bill               
 moved from committee.                                                         
 SENATOR TAYLOR adjourned the meeting at 2:55 p.m.                             

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