Legislature(1995 - 1996)

1996-03-11 House Journal

Full Journal pdf

1996-03-11                     House Journal                      Page 3061
HB 541                                                                       
HOUSE BILL NO. 541 by the House Rules Committee by request of                  
the governor, entitled:                                                        
An Act providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds in              
the amount of $148,500,000 for the purpose of paying the cost of               
design and construction of state correctional facilities; and                  
providing for an effective date.                                               
was read the first time and referred to the Finance Committee.                 
The following fiscal notes apply:                                              

1996-03-11                     House Journal                      Page 3062
HB 541                                                                       
Fiscal note, Office of the Governor, 3/11/96                                   
Fiscal note, Dept. of Revenue, 3/11/96                                         
The Governor's transmittal letter, dated March 11, 1996, appears               
Dear Speaker Phillips:                                                         
Under the authority of art. III, sec. 18, of the Alaska Constitution, I am     
transmitting a bill providing for the issuance of general obligation           
bonds to finance the expansion of regional correctional facilities at          
several locations in Alaska.  The bonds would be issued in the                 
principal amount of $148,500,000.                                              
Alaska's jails and prisons are severely overcrowded.  While we have            
put more police on the streets and rewritten the criminal code to              
produce longer and stronger sentences, we have not significantly               
increased the number of prison beds in Alaska's correctional system            
since Spring Creek Correctional Center opened in January 1988.                 
As a result, we now face substantial fines for any violation of court-         
ordered population limits at our correctional facilities.  We are now          
also confronted by a new class action lawsuit related to the housing           
and program needs of female prisoners that promises to be just as              
costly and protracted as the Cleary litigation if the issues it raises are   
not addressed swiftly.                                                         
My Administration inherited this problem, and we accept the                    
responsibility of remedying it.                                                
After several months of study and planning by the criminal justice             
mini-cabinet, we propose this bill as one part of a three-part plan to         
manage Alaska's growing prisoner population.  Our approach to                  
expanding capacity takes a statewide view and puts the jail and prison         
beds where they belong -- in the regional centers around the state             
where there are courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement        
resources, and existing correctional facilities suffering from                 

1996-03-11                     House Journal                      Page 3063
HB 541                                                                       
In addition to expansion, the Department of Corrections will pursue            
new initiatives to reduce the number of low-risk offenders entering            
correctional facilities, while increasing the number of low-risk               
offenders exiting our jails and prisons.  These two parts of the plan are      
equally as critical as expansion.  They will employ both programmatic          
efforts and increased use of private and non-profit halfway houses to          
ensure that beds in our secure facilities are available for dangerous          
offenders.  A prisoner will not be released from a secure setting unless       
the prisoner is judged to be at low risk to reoffend; protecting the           
public will remain as the foremost concern as these parts of the plan          
are carried out.                                                               
I must note that even if this three-part plan is completely successful,        
Alaska will not have solved its prisoner problems.  Our state                  
population continues to grow; alcohol abuse continues to fuel a                
disproportionate growth in the crime rate; and tough new laws and              
enhanced law enforcement efforts are resulting in our criminal justice         
system apprehending, convicting, and incarcerating more offenders              
than at any time in our history.                                               
If we are ever to stem this rising tide of prisoners, we must focus more       
resources on prevention and intervention, especially in programs aimed         
at our young people.  Some 1,500 juveniles were arrested last year on          
felony charges and we know that many of these children eventually              
will appear in the adult corrections system.  Clearly, we need stronger        
efforts in prevention, and I anticipate specific recommendations along         
these lines when the Youth and Justice Conference that I convened last         
fall issues its report later this year.  Also, I again urge the legislature    
to work with me to endow, for the first time, the recently reconstituted       
Children's Trust Fund as a public-private partnership dedicated to             
meeting the needs of troubled children.                                        
For now, we are obligated to provide more jail and prison space in             
which to house our prisoners.  Construction and operation of these             
proposed correctional projects will represent a significant commitment         
of state revenue to support our criminal justice system and, in turn,          
protect the people of Alaska.  But we believe that over the long term          
it will be the most cost-effective method of dealing with our growing          
prisoner population.                                                           

1996-03-11                     House Journal                      Page 3064
HB 541                                                                       
I have purposefully chosen general obligation bonds as the primary             
vehicle to finance expansion for two reasons.  First, with revenue             
declining, it is more feasible to pay for these projects over a long term      
than it would be to fund them with direct capital appropriations.              
Second, the Alaska Constitution requires general obligation bonds to           
be submitted to the voters of the state for ratification and I strongly        
believe that such a substantial financial commitment deserves to be            
subjected to a vote of the people.                                             
I have taken the additional step of including the costs of the first full      
year of operations once all of the projects in the  ballot proposition are     
completed.  We expect an estimated average annual debt service                 
payment of $13,423,000 through 2013 if the bonds are sold at par.              
The Department of Corrections estimates that the operating costs for           
the first full year after all these projects are completed will be             
approximately $28,000,000.  Cost reductions made possible by the               
projects, such as closure of the 6th Avenue jail in Anchorage and the          
return of 206 prisoners from a contract facility in Arizona, are               
expected to produce a net operating cost of $18,700,000 for these              
facilities in the first year that all of them are in use.                      
If approved by the voters, this commitment will then become an                 
integral part of the state's long-range financial plan.  I urge your           
support for this bill.                                                         
							Tony Knowles