Commissioner of the Department of Corrections Dean Williams, right, answers questions in Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Commissioner of the Department of Corrections Dean Williams, right, answers questions in Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

As Legislature debates criminal justice, post-prison employment program runs out of money

It was cruel irony.

Days before the Alaska Legislature convened in Juneau to discuss ways to keep inmates from returning to prison for new crimes, one of the capital city’s leading post-prison agencies closed its doors for lack of funding.

For three years, Second Chance, run by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, helped former inmates find work after they left the fenced yard of Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

No more. The program ended Oct. 3 after its U.S. Department of Justice grant expired.

“Juneau, our capital city, does not have a re-entry program, and we are the hub for Southeast Alaska,” said Talia Eames, coordinator of the Second Chance program, on Monday night. “We let a lot of people down that day.”

“Do I think it’s a loss to the community? Absolutely,” said Don Habeger, coordinator of the Juneau Re-Entry Coalition.

That coalition is a network of organizations whose missions are to help (in one way or another) former prisoners re-enter life outside the prison walls. For those organizations, Second Chance was a hub — the only such hub in Southeast Alaska.

“It started as a vocational program and it turned into something much more,” said Kara Nelson, director of Haven House, a destination for women leaving prison.

In Anchorage, the Partners for Progress Re-Entry Center is a physical place where the newly released can go to find services. In Juneau, the offices of Second Chance — located in the Andrew Hope Building — served that purpose to an extent.

“When they’re there, they don’t need to explain that they’ve been to prison and have felonies,” Nelson said. They could find work and find support in a safe space.

Dean Williams, Alaska’s commissioner of corrections, said newly released prisoners need two main things when they leave the state’s prison system: a place to live and a job.

Without a program like Second Chance or Partners for Progress, they probably won’t have that.

“Unless you’re in one of those locations, you are now couch-surfing. That’s a problem,” Williams said.

Without housing or a stable job, a newly released prisoner might lapse into addiction or homelessness, and from there back into crime.

Williams said his goal is to break that cycle by working with prisoners before their release.

“If they’re working before they get out, then guess what, they can afford an apartment,” he said.

In the Alaska State Capitol, lawmakers are considering legislative changes to the state’s criminal justice system, but for Second Chance, the problem wasn’t legislation, it was money.

“We need the money. We are desperately needing treatment options. We have 28 beds in Juneau, the capital city, and without the reinvestment funds, it’s going to get worse,” Eames said.

Eames was speaking not just to the state of Second Chance, but about alternatives to prison, such as drug treatment. While the Legislature has allocated $8.5 million over the past two fiscal years for various alternatives to prison, it has simultaneously cut funding for the state’s criminal justice agencies.

Since 2015, funding for all of the state’s criminal justice agencies — The Department of Corrections, Department of Public Safety, Judiciary and the Department of Law — has declined significantly. The unrestricted general fund budget of the Department of Corrections alone has been cut from $298.9 million (in FY15) to $253.7 million (in FY18).

Nelson said by text message that all of Juneau’s programs devoted to “returning citizens” require the devotion of volunteers as well as funding. “One won’t work well without the other,” she wrote. “We are all struggling to stay afloat, but (we) have a passion and will fight to the end.”

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or call 523-2258.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of July 20

Here’s what to expect this week.

Juneau Municipal Attorney Robert Palmer reacts to praise for his service from Assembly members after his resignation was announced during a May 13 meeting. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Three city attorney finalists to be interviewed in public sessions this week by Juneau Assembly

Two Juneau residents with CBJ experience and D.C.-based Army attorney seek to replace Robert Palmer.

Angela Rodell, former CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., speaks to the House Finance Committee on Thursday, June 24, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Angela Rodell, former Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. CEO, says she’s running for mayor

First-time candidate to challenge incumbent Beth Weldon; filing deadline for local election is today.

Republican U.S. House candidate Nick Begich, with sign-holding supporters, waves to Midtown Anchorage motorists on Election Day in 2022. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Some Alaska Republican candidates pledge to withdraw if they aren’t atop GOP votes in primary

Pledges are a way to circumvent ranked choice voting, according to one supporter.

People protesting the death of Steven Kissack gather at Marine Park after marching through downtown Juneau on Sunday afternoon. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Protesters demand police accountability following death of Steven Kissack

Advocates gather where he was shot, say they are raising their voices because “he’s unable to speak.”

A U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka helicopter hovers over Sitka Sound during routine hoist training. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Lt. Cmdr Wryan Webb)
Yakutat-bound charter flight missing from Juneau

Flight departed from Juneau on Saturday with three people aboard, according to U.S. Coast Guard.

President Biden at the White House on July 3. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
President Joe Biden drops out of race, scrambling the campaign for the White House

Withdraws under pressure from fellow Democrats; endorses Vice President Kamala Harris to take on Trump.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, July 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read