The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Andree McLeod

Inmate Deaths Hearing

Letter to the Editor


It was a disappointment to only see Democrat legislators at the July 15 legislative briefing on inmate facilities in Alaska’s correctional facilities. Chaired by Sen. French, other attendees were Sen. Gardner, Reps. Josephson and Tarr. Rep. Tuck, another Democrat, was patched in by teleconference.

This hearing was to gather information about the rash of deaths of inmates while under state care. People invited to speak were the top officials from the Department of Corrections and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, head of the correctional officers union, and some affected family members.

Why were Republican legislators not in attendance? Had they been there, they would have witnessed the cynicism that emanated from the Parnell administration officials as they repeated their standard line of these deaths being just business as usual. They would have heard the powerful testimony of family members whose loved ones died in our jails under questionable and preventable circumstances.

Legislators don’t just pass laws and fund government programs. They’re also to hold administration officials accountable for the way public dollars and programs are mismanaged.

The DOC currently is the largest mental health provider in Alaska with 65 percent of the inmate population having some form of mental illness. Like any disease, mental illnesses can be treated — and without help, it gets worse.

Since the Reagan era, psychiatric institutions have closed, resulting in the criminalization of mental illness, as people left untreated end up in jail without proper care.

The correctional officers union sounded the alarm years ago and asked for help from Parnell administration officials and legislators, to no avail.

Why did Republican legislators not take part in the briefing, look Parnell administration officials in the eye and ask them about deaths that occurred under their watch?

— Andrée McLeod (R), Anchorage


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