Around 50 people have been transferred out of Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau over the past several months. That’s about 20% of the incarcerated population. The Department of Corrections says people have been moved while the prison is repaired after recent rain events caused instability in parts of the facility.
The Juneau Empire reported on the transfer. Editor Ben Hohenstatt shared information the Empire got from DOC, but said there was still a lot to this story that remains unclear.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Chloe Pleznac: So what do we know about the state of the building or the nature of the damage?
Ben Hohenstatt: We know very little ourselves at this moment. Again, citing security concerns, DOC spoke in very broad terms about the nature of repair work happening at sites at the facility. They said both aging infrastructure and extreme wet weather had contributed to a need for repairs to the building.
Chloe Pleznac: Talk me through the transfer of incarcerated individuals. Who’s being moved and why?
Ben Hohenstatt: Again, at this point, that’s largely unclear, it seems that it’s to accommodate this repair work. At this point, what we know is that 45 to 50 people were transferred amid renovations and repair work to the prison. We know that about half of that population was female.
Chloe Pleznac: Do we know where in the state they’re being moved?
Ben Hohenstatt: We were told multiple facilities in Southcentral Alaska was the destination. DOC generally stated that where inmates are taken to, and specific identity of inmates generally [is] not shared to protect both staff and the incarcerated individuals.
Chloe Pleznac: Is there any specific data surrounding the situation that stuck out to you?
Ben Hohenstatt: I was surprised that it was approximately 20% of the population. That’s a significant group of people in a community of a little over 30,000. Fifty people is a lot of people, even over the course of several months. So it was somewhat surprising that the transfer had happened at that scope, and apparently with relative speed and not a ton of information making its way to the public.
Chloe Pleznac: Do we know how many people are being moved are sentenced? And how many are still awaiting trial? Is there any statistics on that?
Ben Hohenstatt: That is not something I know, at this time. I know that we’re not done reporting on this. And we had several questions in and we’ve reached out to some folks who we believe may have been transferred. So hopefully, we’re able to get greater clarity into that.
Chloe Pleznac: So how is this affecting the lives of the incarcerated people being moved? I imagine that their access to visitation is now impaired if they’re being shifted to new correctional centers. Getting to Juneau is hard enough, coming from the outside. I’m just kind of curious how this is impacting their ability to reach people.
Ben Hohenstatt: Right. That is something I would be interested in knowing more about, in the coming days, coming weeks as we’re able to talk to folks. Based on what we know now, DOC says that the overwhelming majority of incarcerated people prefer to communicate remotely with family and legal counsel. And they should continue to be able to do that at other facilities. They’re someplace different. And if they had been relying on non-technology to communicate with their legal representation or families for visitation, I’d have to imagine that would be impacted.
Chloe Pleznac: Do we have any idea when these repairs will be finished?
Ben Hohenstatt: We had been told that they are working with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on the repairs, and that there is not yet a timeline for when the repairs will be done.
Chloe Pleznac: So to be clear, Lemon Creek Correctional Center is not closing down. It is simply redistributing individuals to safer locations while construction is completed.
Ben Hohenstatt: That’s what we were told.