Unclear If New DOC Commissioner Will Make Changes To Inmate Work Program

Dec 5, 2018

UniSea employees sort fish at the processing plant in Unalaska. The company is planning to employ four inmates during the upcoming winter fishing season.
Credit Sarah Hansen/KUCB

It's too soon to say whether the appointment of a new state corrections commissioner will affect the inmate work program that Unalaska is scheduled to join this winter.

New Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Wednesday that he's picked state Rep.-Elect Nancy Dahlstrom to lead the Department of Corrections (DOC).

Does she expect to make any changes to the Transition to Work program, which is on track to employ four prisoners at UniSea's fish processing plant in Unalaska?

"It's a good question, but we won't be able to give a firm answer right now," said Jeff Turner, Dunleavy's deputy communications director. "She hasn't even unpacked her boxes yet."

Dahlstrom is resigning her seat in the Alaska House to take the DOC's top job. On her election website, the Eagle River resident describes herself as "tough on crime."

"It's our responsibility to provide law enforcement the tools to do their jobs, mandate punishments commensurate with the crime, and prioritize the areas of concern," she wrote.

Dahlstrom replaces Dean Williams, who led the department under former governor Bill Walker and lobbied the Unalaska City Council to approve local participation in Transition to Work.

When councilors asked whether the new administration might make changes, Williams' assistant Dave Bacher said he didn't expect anything major. The program is aimed at reducing Alaska's high re-offense rates by helping inmates prepare for life after prison.

"Everyone who has participated has never been re-arrested," said Bacher. "I can't speak for the incoming administration or a new commissioner, but I think they'd look at the success of the program and not stop it."

UniSea's inmate employees are expected to start as early as January and work through the winter fishing season.

Councilors approved the local program as a "trial run" that prohibits the participation of sex offenders, allows Unalaska to opt out at any time, and requires the state to cover all costs, including electronic monitoring equipment that will dictate where prisoners can go.