State's prisoner profile report released: Numbers help prison administrators anticipate needs of inmate population

Posted: Monday, March 22, 2010

When you're in the people business, like Spring Creek Correctional Center Superintendent Craig Turnbull says he is, it's nice to know exactly whom you're dealing with.

A 67-page report recently released by Alaska's Department of Corrections details the people who fill Alaska's prisons.

For Turnbull, who oversees operations at the maximum-security facility in Seward that holds 49 of 77 of the state's long-term offenders, the report is primarily "interesting reading."

"It's not a tool that we would use on a daily basis," Turnbull said. "It gives us a snapshot and can be used to compare last year's population to previous years and helps us see what we need to do to meet the needs of the offenders."

But at the higher levels, the report is exactly the kind of tool administrators can use develop a strategy and policy.

"It reinforces a plan that we already have in place and allows us to look at our facilities to see if we're making the best use of available resources," said Bryan Brandenburg, the deputy director of the department of corrections.

By scrutinizing the data in the report, the state can see what types of criminals are in prison and therefore can institute programs that best help the prisoners succeed in life after they are released.

"Successful treatment programs are proven to reduce recidivism. Anything we can do to impact that number we want to do because it improves public safety," Brandenburg said. "The report helps us to continue to support the programs and to adapt to inmate population."

Some of the state's rehabilitation programs include substance abuse treatment, youthful offender programs and anger management.

Brandenburg said the report can also be used to make changes to the facilities themselves. For example, an aging prison population may require purchasing different kinds of beds. Or, if the numbers show overcrowding somewhere and vacancies in a different facility, the department of corrections will make necessary rotations.

"We try to fill available beds," Brandenburg said.

Wildwood Correctional Complex recently opened a $1.4 million transition facility that includes 32 beds. While demographic reports didn't necessarily lead to the project, they can be a catalyst.

"That's a case where the number would support the reallocation of resources," Brandenburg said of the Wildwood renovation.

The annual report says 3,643 people were in custody in Alaska in 2009. That's up from 3,377 offenders in 2008. Peninsula facilities, including Spring Creek, Wildwood Correctional and Wildwood Pretrial held approximately 25 percent of the state's inmates. Spring Creek alone houses 554 inmates.

Alcohol and drug crimes accounted for approximately 15 percent of the state's offenders' sentences, while person crimes -- assault, robbery, murder, etc. -- accounted for 32 percent. That figure includes 248 first-degree murderers and 191 second-degree murderers.

Other standouts include 198 second-degree thieves, 112 burglars and 240 prisoners convicted of felony DUIs.

These numbers represent the last year's overall prison population, not the number of crimes committed in 2009. They also only account for an offender's most serious conviction.

The average Alaska prisoner is 37 years old and 90 percent of the offenders are men. The average sentence served is 25 months. More than half of the state's female prisoners are white, while only 3 percent are Hispanic. About 30 percent of the state's female prisoners are Alaska Native, 8 percent are black and 3 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander.

Just less than half of male prisoners are white while 11 percent are black, 36 percent are Alaska Native, 2 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander.

More than two thirds of female prisoners served a sentence of six months or less, while 20 percent of male prisoners have served 37 months or more.

"These demographics are consistent with what we see year to year," Brandenburg said.

Kenai Peninsula facilities house 23 percent of the state's Alaska Native prisoners, 26 percent of the state's juvenile offenders, 26 percent of the state's senior offenders, 31 percent of the state's sex offenders and 28 percent of the state's alcohol offenders.

But those are just numbers to Turnbull.

"When you are looking for answers this points you in the right direction to meet the needs of the prisoners," Turnbull said. "But on the ground floor this doesn't really change much for us. We're so busy dealing with it."

Andrew Waite can be reached at

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