Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/12/1996 01:30 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 carried. 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 paroles. 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 employees. 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 training. 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 exists. 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 for. 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 sufficient. 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.