Corrections nominee aims to improve safety for intoxicated people who are detained

Last year, Dean Williams found many problems with the state Department of Corrections that contributed to the deaths of dozens in Alaska’s prisons and jails.
Now he will be in position to do something about it.

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Image in the public domain; accessed via Wikimedia Commons, Sept. 14, 2015.
Image in the public domain; accessed via Wikimedia Commons, Sept. 14, 2015.

Gov. Bill Walker on Thursday nominated Williams to be corrections commissioner.

Williams expressed an interest in changing how the department handles people who are detained when they’re severely intoxicated.

“Putting high risk individuals who are intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, who have committed no crime, in a jail cell with other people in same condition, is not acceptable. And I’m going to work to get there. We do need other alternatives. And so, it’s on the radar.”

In August, Walker asked Williams and former FBI agent Joe Hanlon to conduct a review of the department after several high-profile inmate deaths.

Williams and Hanlon found problems including inconsistent investigations, a lack of adherence to rules by officers, and the use of solitary confinement for minor infractions.

The report recommended investigations of deaths that take place in corrections facilities be handled through an external review.

Williams worked in the juvenile justice system for more than 30 years. He has served as special assistant to Walker since July.

Walker says the fact that Williams wrote a report critical of a department he will now lead is not a problem.

“He’s the best person for this, to take on this task, and so I don’t see a conflict on that. Actually, in some respects, I see a bit of a benefit as far as when he says he’s going in eyes wide open, … that couldn’t be truer.”

Former Corrections Commissioner Ron Taylor resigned after the report was issued.

Both Walker and Williams praised the service of interim Commissioner Walt Monegan, who also had applied for the permanent job.