Corrections chief defends appointment amid criticism

JUNEAU — State Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams defended his appointment Tuesday amid criticism from a correctional officers’ union over a scathing review of the department that Williams helped conduct.

The review found outdated policies, cases of lax or informal consequences for apparent employee misconduct and mistrust between corrections staff and management. The review, ordered by Gov. Bill Walker after several inmate deaths, was conducted by Williams, then a special assistant to the governor, and former FBI agent Joe Hanlon.

In releasing the report last November, Walker said he wanted new leadership in the department. He named Walt Monegan as interim commissioner and in January appointed Williams, a former youth detention center superintendent. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Legislature.

During confirmation hearings Tuesday, Williams said he didn’t seek out the post and knew that since he helped conduct the review that some people wouldn’t like his appointment. But he said he cares about the department’s mission and is working to build trust.

“And I am before you because I want to do something in this job. I don’t want to be something in this job. This title is not why I’m here,” he told the Senate State Affairs Committee.

The Alaska Correctional Officers Association released what it called a rebuttal to the administrative review that states that Williams’ review contained inaccuracies and omissions and was “purposely deceptive in many areas.” The 53-page association report, dated Monday, also states that the release of videos showing correctional officers put them and their families at risk.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, suggested that in at least one case involving an inmate death the review did not give the full picture, leading to an at times pointed back-and-forth between him and Williams. In an interview later, Wielechowski said he hadn’t decided whether to support his confirmation.

Williams said that danger increases when officers are forced to work overtime, policies haven’t been updated for many years and training is not done regularly. There are ways of handling people so they don’t have to die, and that’s the goal, he said.

Williams told reporters he hadn’t seen the union report, but he stands behind the review he and Hanlon did. He said he’s about “moving on” — doing what he can to help the department and be transparent about its problems and not “rehashing history.”

Williams said he has hired as a deputy commissioner and director of institutions two people who came up through the department ranks. He has been visiting facilities on weekends, allowing staff to get to know him and speaking with them about ways to make facilities and their jobs safer, he said.

Both Williams and the union have cited similar concerns — issues with staffing and training. The union in its report said “the most significant way the State could remedy this matter is to make good on its word and address the staffing, training and safety issues Correctional Officers have been asking to have resolved for years.”

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said complaints have been building for years. There needs to be more training and a change in culture, she said.

While Williams’ appointment may be controversial, McGuire said she’s glad he is staying on.

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