Kotzebue Jail Remains Closed To Some Prisoners

The Kotzebue Regional Jail has been closed since Dec. 1 to all prisoners arrested by state agencies. This is the result of a funding dispute between the City of Kotzebue and the Department of Corrections. The city had hoped to re-negotiate its contract with DOC by Feb. 1. But Kotzebue City Finance Director Keith Greene says funding issues continue, and as a result, the jail won’t re-open Wednesday.

Kotzebue Police Chief Craig Motes says the jail will continue to house local prisoners. But it will remain closed to prisoners arrested by state agencies.

Funding for the Kotzebue jail has been static at an annual $880,000 since 2007. The governor’s 2012 proposed budget increases the jail’s funding to just over $944,000. While that does represent an increase in funding, Greene says it isn’t enough: a city audit for fiscal year 2011 shows jail operating expenses of $1.19 million. With the $944,000 already being used for 2013’s budget, Greene says funding will fall well short of what it costs the city to operate the jail.

DOC Administrative Services Director Leslie Houston says Kotzebue’s audits for the jail differ from their own. Staffing is one area of the jail’s budget that Houston says exceeds what DOC is willing to pay.

Until the Kotzebue jail fully re-opens, state agencies will continue transporting prisoners to Nome’s Anvil City facility for holding, and back to Kotzebue for trial and arraignment. Houston says she doesn’t know the costs associated with such transport, but during the Kotzebue jail’s previous closure from 2003 to 2005, the state spent $1.5 million on similar prisoner holding and transport costs.

In addition to the funding, Greene says there’s also an issue of certification: when the city closed the jail in December, he says the facility’s certification as a regional jail was pulled. Re-opening would mean all liability for prisoners would fall on the city of Kotzebue, and not on the Department of Corrections.

Houston says DOC will meet with representatives of Kotzebue to discuss the future of the jail on Feb. 7.

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