Robert Sewell was fully expecting to have the Department of Corrections bringing alleged criminals to Douglas Island.
A proposed pre-trial program, which would provide further supervision and housing for those who committed non-violent crimes in an effort to reduce prison populations, will be coming to Juneau in the following months. Through word-of-mouth, Sewell (the president of the Douglas Island Neighborhood Association) heard that a pre-trial housing facility would be coming to Douglas Island, to be housed in a DOC office building on Third Street.
“Make no mistake about it,” Sewell said, “it’s very clear that there was a plan by DOC to have pre-trial service there on Third Street.”
Department of Corrections spokesperson Corey Allen-Young said Wednesday there was never any plan to have the facility on Douglas Island, and that the final location for the facility is yet to be determined. A facility will come to the City and Borough of Juneau sometime this year, Allen-Young said, but the DOC isn’t sure where.
“(Douglas) was looked at. He’s right about that,” Allen-Young said of Sewell’s assertion, “but that was not the plan. Nothing was signed.”
Now, Allen-Young said, the facility is likely not going to end up on Douglas at all. The pre-trial program is part of Senate Bill 91, and there are numerous guidelines in the bill about what to look for in setting up a housing facility. The bill states that if it’s possible to use a building that’s already owned by the state, that would be the easiest.
It’s been challenging to find room to either build a facility or rent property in all the places where pre-trial facilities will be — including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, the Kenai Peninsula and the Mat-Su Valley — but it’s been especially challenging in Juneau.
“That’s part of the difficulty, especially in a place like Juneau,” Allen-Young said, “because there’s not many buildings, period. It’s hard to find housing.”
Senate Bill 91, signed into law last year, aims to lower the state’s prison population. The bill includes substance abuse treatment and programs that help inmates re-enter society, as well as these pre-trial programs. If a person is arrested for DUI, for example, he or she will not go to jail but will temporarily go to this pre-trial facility. The person would then meet with a pre-trial officer, be under supervision, undergo a background check and then learn his or her placement.
For certain crimes, a person could pay for his or her own electronic monitoring (such as a bracelet that tracks the person’s location) while still living at home or at the pre-trial facility and still being employed. This way, the state saves money by not incarcerating the individual and the individual gets to live closer to home. Allen-Young said it costs the state about $51,000 per year to imprison someone.
This idea is a tough one to understand, so Allen-Young can see how those on Douglas Island were scared by the prospect. There’s a neighborhood meeting April 4 at the Douglas Public Library for those concerned, and Sewell has invited both Allen-Young and representatives from the Juneau Police Department. Allen-Young is looking forward to this meeting.
“We’re actually embracing it,” Allen-Young said. “I told my boss, ‘This is a good way to educate people.’ I don’t think people really understand what pre-trial means, what we’re directed to do. So we’re going to have some education going on, some one-pagers, because it is confusing.”
JPD Public Information Officer Lt. David Campbell is also a little unclear on what the pre-trial program will entail. He’s looking forward to attending the meeting to learn more about the program and about the possible effects.
Campbell has not been in touch with DOC about the possible effect of the pre-trial program could be on the community. He’s not sure about whether it has a chance to increase crime, but he said the outrage from Sewell and the neighborhood is likely out of a general lack of understanding of the program.
“My take is, that it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in the future,” Campbell said, “and it’s hard to say what the impact is going to be.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at email@example.com or 523-2271