Settlement reached in Bethel halfway-house lawsuit

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

BETHEL (AP) -- Residents of a Bethel halfway house have settled a lawsuit against the center's former and current operators that alleged substandard living conditions.

The Tundra Center's settlement with Allvest Inc. and parent company Cornell Corrections was more than $100,000, said plaintiff lawyer Jim Valcarce. He would not reveal the exact figure.

In 1998 Valcarce and another Bethel lawyer filed suit against Tundra Center on behalf of 63 former residents of the state-funded halfway house.

''It was not about the money,'' Valcarce told the Tundra Drums.''We corrected a wrong.''

The lawsuit sought damages for the residents on what Valcarce called ''appalling'' living conditions at the center.

The legal action alleged that toilets in the center were overflowing, broken windows were not repaired during winter months and residents were served contaminated food.

Cathy Okeson, regional director for Cornell, said the company took over the center in September 1998 and immediately started repairing the problems left by Allvest.

''We put more than $500,000 into the center since we took over operations,'' Okeson said. ''We continue to put money into the center because it was such a horrible place when we got it.''

Valcarce said Cornell was named in the lawsuit because it had not fixed the problems prior to the suit being filed.

Allvest officials refused to comment on the lawsuit or settlement.

Tom Furbush, current Tundra Center director, said, along with the building repairs, a new monitoring system has been installed. Cornell has also started new programs and hired new staff, he said.

Bruce Richards, special assistant to state corrections commissioner Margaret Pugh, acknowledged the Corrections Department fell short in its oversight of Tundra Center under Allvest.

''But we are happy with the way things are running now,'' he said. ''When you have an incident like this, you have to look at it, fix it and make sure it never happens again.''

Top administrators at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center now make weekly visits to Tundra Center and point out things that need to be fixed, Richards said.

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