The Alaska Legislature is stepping into the internal bickering in the state’s prisons that has reached a feverish pitch. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, is calling for an investigation by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee to find the truth behind allegations of disease, understaffing and dangerous overcrowding. At the same time, Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he will conduct a public hearing later this month.
The administration and correctional officers have been in a tizzy for months over prison conditions and personnel issues. The feud peaked last month when unionized guards passed a “vote of no confidence” in Commissioner Joe Schmidt. The bad blood between Schmidt and the prison guard union runs deep and highlights the stresses of a growing prison population and the new direction and methodology of the commissioner. Schmidt has come under fire with the no-confidence vote and a critical op-ed column from Marc Antrim, the previous commissioner.