March marks a special time of year for the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center (HMCC), when a select group of women get the privilege of caring for Iditarod dogs that have been dropped from the race. The Dog Project began in 1974 and is in its 46th year of operation at Hiland, where it continues to act as an incentive opportunity for inmates and a way for the women to give back to their community.
Sarah Hayes, an inmate at HMCC, has been participating in the Dog Project for the past 3 years and enjoys not only the break in routine from normal day-to-day life in the institution but also the sense of purpose it gives her. “I have this drive to want to be useful,” she says, “which is hard to accomplish when you’re in prison.” Two crews of seven women care for the dogs over the two-week period – handling their paperwork, feeding them and keeping the area where they are housed clean. “We’re doing something in here that has a positive effect out there,” says Hayes.
Sgt. Dena Yuill, the Special Projects and Disciplinary Sergeant at HMCC, says the Dog Project is something different that the inmates look forward to every year. Getting the opportunity to participate is a privilege, and a certain criterion must be met for the women to be admitted to the program. Inmates must be sentenced, working, with a “minimum” custody level ranking and have no infractions for a certain amount of time.
Sgt. Yuill has been running the Dog Project and others like it for 8 years at Hiland. Running activities like these are vital to the reentry process and successfully transitioning back into the community. Janice Weiss, the Reentry Program Manager for the Department of Corrections, says, “Activities like these are great behavioral motivators for inmates because it is an honor for them to participate. It teaches them responsibility and accountability to someone or something other than themselves, while also providing a sense of being needed.” She says these factors play a significant role in helping them feel a part of a community, and that feeling will carry over after they are released. In addition, they practice on-the-job skills—arriving on time, being prepared for the work that needs to be done, and following directions.
Hiland can house up to 60 dogs at a time, although handlers usually pick up their dogs within just a few days. The facility anticipates continuing to receive and care for dogs through the weekend.
Earlier this month, two Palmer Pretrial Enforcement Division (PED) officers went beyond their typical duties when they stopped to gas up their SUV. This stop led to the arrest of a man carrying drugs and stolen credit cards.
When one of the PED officers went inside the Mat-Su gas station to collect a receipt, he witnessed a man walk out of the store with several items of unpaid merchandise. The PED officers confronted the man, who admitted to carrying methamphetamine.
The pretrial officers detained the man until the Palmer Police Department (PPD) arrived. When PPD arrived, they asked PED to search the man. Our officers discovered that the man was also carrying heroin.
After the male suspect gave consent to have his vehicle searched — and at the request of AST and PPD – the pretrial officers performed the search. In addition to the shoplifted gas station merchandise, and the drugs, PED officers discovered a wallet with about 10 different credit cards with different names.
From the Juneau Empire: “Lemon Creek Correctional Center recently implemented a program called New Chapter, to support loving communication between incarcerated parents and their children. Incarcerated parents can record a video of themselves reading a book, poem or letter to send to their child. Because of the size of Alaska, children may be located too far from their incarcerated parent to be able to visit in person.”
Congratulations to the 21 Lemon Creek Correctional officers who recently attended and became certified Institutional Investigators.
The two day, 16-hour Institutional Investigator class was designed to provide correctional officers investigative guidelines, knowledge, and skills in order to affect prosecutable criminal cases and to assist Alaska State Troopers and DOC Investigators to properly preserve, document, and investigate crimes within DOC institutions.
Besides a written examination, investigators had to develop a plan to properly preserve and document the scene, and properly seize all of the potential evidence.
Some of the feedback from the students included:
“Best class I have taken in 10 years.”
“Very engaging. Kept the topic interesting and the class never became boring.”
“Loved this class!”
“Very interactive. Working through the tough cases was very informative.”
Instructors will be continuing visiting institutions around the state in order to help even more officers learn investigative techniques.
“Early one morning in the yard at Spring Creek Correctional Center, an inmate approached Sgt. Justin Ennis. A group of fifteen men incarcerated at the institution had just completed an hour-long run around the yard, part of a program that gives inmates an opportunity to leave their cells early for a morning jog alongside correctional officers.”
Ketchikan Correctional Center performed a valuable service project last week. Chaise Peters, Spencer Inkster and Daniel Mann helped Superintendent Mathews rid their area of an invasive weed named Tansy Ragwort. It is toxic and kills livestock and deer if eaten, it overtakes local flora and fauna and removes native plants and appearance.
This is an extremely hard to remove invasive species. But the team from KCC worked extremely hard, and removed weeds from several private properties, and the Alaska State Trooper post and Arrowhead fuel service.
This is Jason Whetsell. He’s the new Pretrial Enforcement Division (PED) Director. He’s planning on using his 20-plus years of Alaska law enforcement experience to lead PED and help grow the young division.
Here’s a few things off of this lifelong Alaskan’s resume:
22 years as a police officer, and most of that time with the Anchorage Police Department.
SWAT team member
K9 handler and instructor
Field training officer
Interim chief of police for the Cordova Police Department (the town he was born and raised in).
Geri Miller-Fox, who stood up the young division, will be helping Whetsell transition into the position. Her last day will be Sept. 7. In an email announcing her resignation to DOC personnel in early-July, she said:“As some of you may know, I have been working on a Ph.D. for the past few years. My coursework is completed, and the time has now come for me to focus on writing a dissertation. A dissertation is the equivalent of writing a book, and as you can imagine, it will consume most of my time. For this reason, I’ve made the bittersweet decision to stepdown.”
We’re so grateful for the work Mrs. Miller-Fox did in her time with the Alaska Department of Corrections, and we wish her nothing but the best as she continues to accomplish her academic goals and on all of other future endeavors. Her passion for public service is truly inspiring.
The Department of Corrections is hosting two upcoming educational events. These are both open to staff and the public. We hope you’ll join us.
June 14, 2018 on Facebook Live:In the latest installment of Chit-Chat w/ Commissioner Williams, we’ll be discussing the expanding cannery work-release program and taking a virtual tour of the facility. By tapping into one of Alaska’s resources, DOC will be able to teach job skills and provide employment opportunities to individuals nearing the end of their sentences.
July 23, 2018 at Bear Tooth: The Department of Corrections presents a screening of the documentary, “Breaking the Cycle.” The hour-long film follows the warden of Halden — Norway’s most humane prison that’s showing promising results — tours the U.S. prison system to discuss the importance of rehabilitation in incarceration.
The screening will follow a discussion and Q & A with Commissioner Dean Williams, Wildwood Superintendent Shannon McCloud, and more.
Tickets are $4. They go on sale online and in the box office July 10, 2018. Buy them, here.
“The Pretrial Enforcement Division of the state Department of Corrections began setting up shop in May, five months after offices opened in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Palmer. Along with the Kenai office, new offices are also opening in Bethel and Ketchikan,” the Peninsula Clarion reported.
Last week, Palmer Pretrial Enforcement Officers were contacted by a community member who said a pretrial defendant was threatening him. The officers encouraged the man to contact the Wasilla Police Department to file a formal report; meanwhile, DOC’s pretrial officers were able to follow-up with the defendant, per the defendant’s release conditions set by a judge.
When the pretrial officers arrived at the defendant’s home for field contact, they discovered a stolen pistol in the garage, and another loaded pistol in the defendant’s bedroom and several other deadly weapons. Per release conditions, the defendant was not allowed to possess any firearms.
The pretrial officers arrested the defendant for violating his release conditions, and the stolen weapon was handed over to Wasilla police.
In Alaska, pretrial defendants have always gotten out on bail. But with the creation of the Pretrial Enforcement Division, individuals released on bail are now being supervised by law enforcement. Thank you to the pretrial officers for their quick response and for helping to build a safer Alaska.