Prison Industries

Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The McKinley Meat Packing Plant -- a slaughterhouse run by the state's prison system since 1987-- will finally fall to the budget ax.

The Department of Corrections, which leases the Palmer facility from the state's Department of Natural Resources agriculture division, plans to shut down the facility after next year.

A proposal before the Legislature would give the facility a one-year reprieve while the state seeks to privatize it. The plant is the only slaughterhouse in the Matanuska-Susitna region.

''It's a very important part of the (Mat-Su) valley market for those who are raising cattle and hogs,'' said Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage.

Leman proposed adding $300,000 from an agriculture loan fund to keep the facility operating for fiscal 2003.

The facility buys about 1,000 cattle and hogs each from area farmers annually, said Wally Roman, general manager of the Alaska Correctional Industries. The meat is used in prisons, state facilities or restaurants, depending on its quality, Roman said.

It is operated by about 20 inmates from the Palmer Correctional Facility. It also includes three civilian employees and two prison guards.

It costs about $350,000 in state funds to keep the facility open each year, Roman said.

''In years past, this particular operation has lost money every year,'' he said, adding the losses to about $1 million over 15 years.

Alaska Correctional Industries generates about $3.7 million in gross sales annually and adds about $67,000 to the state coffers, Roman said.

It includes furniture plants in Seward and Kenai, garment shops in Fairbanks and Eagle River, laundry facilities in Juneau and a Palmer auto body shop.

The meat plant is one area of the state Department of Corrections that has been affected by budget cuts proposed by the Legislature. Funding for the plant was cut from a fiscal 2003 operating budget passed in the House.

Leman said the funding added in the Senate will give the state time to find a private enterprise or a cooperative interested in operating the facility. The nearest other slaughterhouse is located in Delta, Roman said.

The state was unable to find an interested bidder to take over operations at the facility last year, Roman said. Roman said he knows of no business which has expressed an interest in the facility.

The Senate Finance Committee is considering a budget that trims about $8.3 million from Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles' request for the state's corrections department.

Corrections would receive $149.3 million under the GOP plan, not yet approved by the committee, according to the state Office of Management and Budget.

That would represent a $1 million increase over this year's funding level, the agency said. But it would still require cutting 45 correctional officers and two probation officers from state rolls and leaving about 52 positions vacant, the agency said.

The 20 inmates would be reassigned to other duties at the Palmer Correctional Facility and the three civilian employees face an uncertain fate, said corrections spokesman Bruce Richards.

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