UniSea Still Waiting On DOC Decision About Inmate Work Program

Feb 4, 2019

Workers sort crab at the UniSea processing plant in Unalaska. Company officials say they were hoping to employ four inmates during the winter fishing season.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

This winter, UniSea had planned to employ four prison inmates at its Unalaska fish processing plant.

But company officials say the "Transition to Work" program remains in limbo, following the election of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

"We're basically on standby," said Ferdie Lopez, UniSea's local safety and security manager. "We've been waiting for the Department of Corrections (DOC)."

Lopez said the state DOC has not answered the company's questions about whether new Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom will continue the program, which aims to reduce Alaska's high re-offense rate by helping inmates prepare for life after prison.

Dahlstrom was appointed by Dunleavy in December.

"We reached out," said Lopez. "And to this point, there's no clear indication if the program is going to continue here. But we are still optimistic that we'll hear back from them anytime soon."

UniSea CEO Tom Enlow said the Dunleavy administration may drop the program to cut costs or take the DOC's philosophy in a different direction. But if they don't, UniSea will be ready to accept inmate workers at any time this fishing season.

"We're just as committed as we were before," said Enlow. "We're going to take all the necessary precautions we said we would before. And we expect the same kind of results."

UniSea won approval from the Unalaska City Council last year to join the DOC program, which has also operated at seafood processing plants in Kenai and Cordova.

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 dictates where prisoners can go.