State Operating Budget Likely Delaying Prison Opening

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The newly constructed state prison in the Matanuska Susitna Borough will most likely not open on time, because the state operating budget passed on Friday does not contain enough of the funds requested by corrections officials.

In March, the Senate Finance Committee cut the Goose Creek Correctional Facility start up funds, some $3.6 million, from the Senate version of the state operating budget, because of concerns about the eventual cost to the state of running the prison.  At the time, Senator Johnny Ellis said he was confident that the funds would be reinstated after conference committee talks.

But that has not been the case.  The version of the state budget passed  Friday contains a reduced amount for prison start up costs, some $2.4 million.

Richard Schmitz is spokesman  for  the department of corrections.

Schmitz says the original plan was to bring in a small group of prisoners to test the facility before opening the prison entirely. Now the available funds will be spent on bond debt and utilities.

The Matanuska Susitna Borough built the 1,500 bed prison, which is 85 percent complete, and under an agreement with the state, is leasing it to the state for twenty five years.  The idea behind the agreement was to provide in – state housing for about 1,000 Alaska prisoners now incarcerated in Colorado.

Goose Creek operating costs are about $50 million a year, plus lease payments to the Borough of almost $18 million a year.   It costs $20 million a year to keep Alaska’s prisoners in outside facilities.

Goose Creek was scheduled to open in June of 2012.  Schmitz says now that date will be delayed.

Corrections officials could ask for more money as part of the supplemental budget next year or request additional funds for the next fiscal year budget cycle.

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