The State of Alaska has experienced exceptional growth in the number of prisoners held under the aegis of the Department of Corrections (DOC). Using DOC monthly population fact sheets, the Justice Center has plotted a chart of the incarcerated population during the period from February 1980, when the Alaska jail and prison population numbered 770, to July 1992, when the population was 2474.This July 1992 figure represents a decrease from a peak of 2621, which was reached in February 1990.
DOC has suggested that presumptive sentencing has contributed to this increase.This form of sentencing, which went into effect in 1980, includes mandatory minimum sentences. The result has been a "stacking effect" because presumptively sentenced offenders could not earn early release (Alaska Corrections in Review, 1991, p. 165).
During the period charted, the Alaska Department of Corrections opened eight facilities in order to accommodate the rapidly rising population. Some of these replaced older institutions which were then closed, but there was still a net gain in the number of facilities. In addition, some existing facilities were remodeled to increase capacity.
Because for many years Alaska had no satisfactory long-term maximum security facility, inmates requiring this type of incarceration were transferred to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP). The drop in the FBP population shown on the chart corresponds to an increase in the Alaska population which occurred when many inmates were transferred to Spring Creek Correctional Center, the state's first long-term maximum security facility. Inmates are still sent to out-of-state facilities, but these numbers have decreased considerably.
The institutional population appears to have reached a plateau and is expected by the DOC to level off. As more prisoners under presumptive sentencing complete the minimum incarceration period for their offense, more are being released. At the same time alternatives to incarceration are being used more often, also contributing to a stabilization of populations levels.
Nancy Schafer is a professor with the Justice Center; Melissa Green is the Center publication specialist.