Alaska’s growing and expensive prison population is getting new attention from state legislators, who say they want to try new ways to lower inmate numbers, reports the Anchorage Daily News. House and Senate panels that oversee the state corrections budget hosted a daylong “Smart Justice Summit” Monday to learn how other states tackled the problem and to examine what innovations might work in Alaska. This year’s budget for the state Department of Corrections tops $288 million, up more than $110 million from what was being spent 10 years ago.
The state’s new Goose Creek prison, due to open next July, cost $250 million to build, and if state leaders don’t flip the trend, it’ll be full in just a couple of years. Liberals and conservatives can unite over reforms that cut costs while offering more help for offenders, said state Sen. Johnny Ellis. Ellis, a Democrat, backs the principles — including accountability, lowering crime and rehabilitation — espoused by an initiative called Right on Crime that includes high profile conservatives Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush and Ed Meese. “It’s a magic moment,” Ellis said. Alaska is among eight states that experienced the biggest increase in prison populations between the end of 2008 and the start of 2010, according to a Pew Center on the States study.