Legislators Searching for Ways to Cut Spending on Prison System

Monday, the state Senate and House Finance Subcommittees on Correction are holding a joint hearing on ways to cut what the state spends on its prison system.

It’s called “The Smart Justice Summit” and will evaluate methods to solve what Anchorage Democrat Johnny Ellis calls the “prison growth crisis.” Ellis is Senate Rules chairman as well as chairman of the Senate subcommittee.

“A lot of attention goes to the rising health care cost, and Medicaid and how that’s a cost-driver in our state operating budget. But less attention has been paid to the rising cost in corrections. So this Smart Justice Summit is about trying to find a way to bring that increasing cost curve downward – to promote public safety at the same time that we are saving money and being smarter about criminal justice in the state of Alaska,” Ellis said.

The committees will hear from Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti and others with specialized information about criminal justice. Among them is Jerry Madden, a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives who devised a way to save $500 million in that state’s prison system.

“As wealthy as Texas is with their oil and gas, was not wealthy enough to afford multiple new high-security prisons over time. And so they decided to examine their system and apply conservative public safety, criminal justice policies to their budget and they’ve had significant success. And Rep. Madden is going to share the Texas experience from a conservative perspective with those of us here in Alaska,” Madden said.

The hearing takes place this morning at the legislative offices in Anchorage.