Legislature(1995 - 1996)

1996-03-12 Senate Journal

Full Journal pdf

1996-03-12                     Senate Journal                      Page 2710
SB 306                                                                       
SENATE BILL NO. 306 BY THE SENATE 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 State Affairs, Judiciary           
and Finance Committees.                                                        

1996-03-12                     Senate Journal                      Page 2711
SB 306                                                                       
Fiscal note published today from Department of Revenue.                        
Governor's transmittal letter dated March 11:                                  
Dear President Pearce:                                                         
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 overcrowding.                                                             
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          

1996-03-12                     Senate Journal                      Page 2712
SB 306                                                                       
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.                                                   
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.         

1996-03-12                     Senate Journal                      Page 2713
SB 306                                                                       
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