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Story Last modified at 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Goose Creek facility good for state, local economy
Guest editiorial


The nearly completed prison at Point MacKenzie should turn out to be a great project for all of Alaska. The Goose Creek Correctional Center is within budget and other parameters laid out in the Correctional Facility Expansion law of 2004.

Private prison operations in the Lower 48 have lower operating costs. Constructing prisons around the state, as the law set out to do, is intended to reduce long-term correctional system costs. In the meantime there are other benefits:

• Next year, 1,050 Alaska inmates are expected to be housed in another state. Alaska will send $25 million each year to Colorado. Returning those dollars to Alaska to circulate in this economy was an important reason legislators stood behind the prison expansion law known as Senate Bill 65 (SB 65).

• Goose Creek construction has generated hundreds of jobs over many years and produced over $100 million in direct payroll. At a time when communities nationwide were facing record unemployment, that money was spent here. Nearly 100 percent of the work was by Alaskans.

• Eventually there will be 345 permanent Corrections employee jobs. The $28 million dollar payroll will circulate in the Alaskan economy, not in Colorado.

• Most prison support contracts will be with Alaskan companies, including food, office supplies, medical and dental services.

The state projects per bed cost of $86.72 per day is midway between the Palmer minimum jail and the Seward maximum facility. Goose Creek is a medium security facility.

A direct operating cost comparison has not yet been presented. A comparison was done for 1,050 out-of-state inmates versus 1,536 Goose Creek inmates resulting in a $27 million delta. If we extrapolate the stated costs from 1,050 to 1,536 inmates, the out-of-state costs would rise to $37 million. The cost difference between Goose Creek and Outside would decrease to $13 million. This $13 million of spending will arguably yield more than $51 million of economic benefit as the economic multiplier ripples through the Alaska economy.

There are many costs which would be avoided by moving in-state inmates to Goose Creek. For example, the state recently added $3.5 million to their FY12 budget request. This $3.5 million is overtime money we can expect to not see in the FY 13 budget. You also continue to carry the risk that outside prisons might not take our inmates in the future.

Goose Creek Correctional Center is on budget at $240 million and ahead of the scheduled completion date of December. There are no cost overruns. Under SB 65 the annual lease payment for the prison may not exceed $11,600 a bed. Goose Creek is $11,554 per bed. In addition, the State's Attorney General has confirmed the escalated cost per bed is within SB 65 parameters.

One SB 65 goal was to reduce the rate of inmates returning to prison. Goose Creek has been specifically designed to reduce recidivism by providing educational opportunities and creating an environment to integrate prisoners into society.

The decision to locate the new state prison at Point MacKenzie was a unanimous vote by the Executive Site Selection Committee. The Committee had state and borough representation. A final decision was made after a comprehensive site selection process that narrowed 16 sites to one. A large amount of engineering information was amassed to analyze the pros and cons of the final sites. The public process of the site selection won a national award in American City & County Magazine, 2007.

The new GCCC wastewater utility is cheaper than it would have been at Palmer. A new prison with 190,000 gallons daily of effluent could not just hook up to any sewer line. Connecting to Palmer's wastewater facility would require a $43 million dollar investment to bring the plant up to federal requirements, according to an independent study by licensed engineers. Wasilla's facility could not handle the volume. The Goose Creek water and wastewater $23 million cost is much lower and the state will own the asset.

The Alaska prison system remains overcrowded. SB 65 envisioned a partnership between local communities and the state to expand other prison facilities across Alaska. Only Kodiak and Mat-Su were able to use this method because all the other communities encountered insurmountable obstacles and unprecedented cost escalation.

Now that Goose Creek is almost done, the state can bring inmates home from Colorado. By shifting 600 inmates from other overcrowded facilities to Goose Creek, overall in-state balance should result in efficiencies, and operating costs will be reduced. By operating other prison and jail facilities in Alaska at their design capacity, we can expect these facilities to be safer and to last longer.

Opening Goose Creek Correctional Center is much preferred to "exporting" our money, jobs, payroll and inmates to the Lower 48. Goose Creek was and is good public policy presuming efficient operation by the Department of Corrections.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, April 13, 2011.