Letter to the Editor: Sending prisoners Outside is bad for communities

“Those of you who want to do prison ministry can go do it in Arizona” was the comment from the first speaker at the recent budget gathering at the Sports Center. I have to say that as a 12-year volunteer at both Wildwood and Hiland Mountain, it was hard not to take that personally. It’s wrong on so many levels.

On the Kenai Peninsula, a vote to approve private prisons was defeated 3:1 in October 2001. Our citizens acknowledged that inmates that we have arrested and sentenced are the state’s responsibility and we didn’t want private prisons. To pay a private entity in another state is even less appropriate. The answer to our budget woes is sending money to help prison CEOs make their fortunes?! There are economic benefits to prisons — and we’d be sending our money to make it so for private prisons in another state. If you are interested, please check and see how many multimillions are being made in doing just that! Recidivism isn’t that important to private prisons either, for obvious reasons.

Now to the budget suggestions that Wildwood Correctional be closed and the prisoners sent to private prisons Outside. I can consider the inmates as humans, potential community members who will be living next door to me eventually OR just as economic units. I’m choosing the first description. Most inmates will be getting out, for better or worse. Our community has been working hard to make it the former with re-entry programs and other groups within and without the institution who are committed to doing what we can to reintegrate and provide resources for success. Recidivism is costly to us all on every level. Call me cynical, but I think recidivism is actually good for the private prison bottom line.

Housing Alaska’s inmates Outside makes everything in the past paragraph so much more complicated, if not impossible. Friends and family and volunteers really can’t, as the speaker suggested, “go do it in Arizona.” I can’t imagine that there isn’t someone you know who has been successfully reintegrated into our community. Even simple connections such as phone calls become more complicated. Family connections are nearly impossible.

Having said all of this, I’d like to speak about the staff at Wildwood. It’s easy for me to consider them well-trained and dedicated employees of our state, doing a difficult job in my stead. I’ve seen them at work. They are also fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, community members, people who sit beside us in church. They are also economic units, not unlike those incarcerated. Their income, their talents and gifts are shared in our community, both in and out of the institution. It truly is a trickle down and their absence would be devastating, both financially and socially.

Like all of us, I have much to say about the governor’s proposed budget. Do you want to know how I really feel? Hal and I came to Alaska 49 years ago this month. We are heavily invested in multiple ways in our community and state. Not -56 degree weather, nor earthquakes, nor mosquitoes, nor mountains of snow can do what Dunleavy has done.

For the first time we have considered leaving Alaska. It breaks my heart to even write this.

— Susan Smalley, Kenai

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