The Alaska Correctional Officers Association gave the state corrections commissioner Joe Schmidt a “no confidence” censure vote on Tue, April 22, 2008. ACOA union members voted 514 to 19 against Schmidt.
The allegations just won't stop coming from disgruntled employees and prison inmates, all directed at the state Department of Corrections.
Overcrowded prisons, a drug-resistant skin infection being passed around the prisoner population and a no-confidence vote for Commissioner Joe Schmidt are among the problems the state agency faces.
Everyone agrees Alaska's jails are filled beyond capacity. But there are differing opinions about whether the state is doing enough to keep the facilities safe and clean.
Anchorage Correctional Complex was built to house 853 inmates but now holds far more. There are more inmates than ever at the complex. Alaska Correctional Officers Association, which represents officers, says the state is reducing the number of guards patrolling the jails.
Schmidt and his deputy commissioners claim the union is playing dirty to get what it wants: more control over the department and its management. "I felt bullied."
Schmidt says he has made a lot of difficult changes since being appointed at the end of 2006 -- reducing overtime, promoting rehabilitation programs, and pushing aggressively for ways to reduce costs and the state's staggering 60 percent of offenders who end up back in jail. .
Governor Sarah Palin has said he has her unconditional support.
Rebecca Bingham is the Department of Corrections Clinical Director.
MRSA, a drug-resistant staph infection, is rampant behind bars in Anchorage. The guards say the administrators are not doing enough to keep them safe in the state's overcrowded prisons. They say the department won't acknowledge dangerous health issues, like constant exposure to MRSA, a difficult-to-treat staph infection.
But corrections officials refute that claim. "Once they are in here, as long as the institution is keeping things relatively clean and the inmates and officers are washing their hands frequently, it really has a much lower level than the outside," said Rebecca Bingham, clinical director for state corrections. Bingham said that although the DOC doesn't track cases of MRSA, she believes there are four unconfirmed cases of the infection.
The state says it is doing its best to keep the jails clean and safe.
A more recent case illustrates Dr Bingham's attitude to prisoners' health.
Joseph Alexie, an Alaska Native, died of tuberculosis on December 9, 2008, on his daughter's 5th birthday, while incarcerated at Red Rock correctional center in Arizona. Red Rock is the facility the Alaska Department of Corrections has a contract with to house Alaskan inmates. Even though Joseph Alexie was in Arizona when he died, he was governed by Alaska Department of Corrections health standards.
"Occasionally villages will have an outbreak of tuberculosis where quite a few people get exposed and go on the INH treatment, but it is pretty rare in the United States for someone to die from it," says Department of Corrections Clinical Director Dr. Rebecca Bingham.
"He kept going and trying to get checked up, but they kept sending him away telling him it was bronchitis, or this or that, and they were just giving him a wrong diagnosis every time, without really giving him any medical attention." Says Myra Colley, Joseph Alexie's cousin.
His family says no matter what his crimes, he should not have died behind bars from a controllable and treatable disease.
Though they are bound by federal laws not to talk about the health of specific inmates, the clinical director for DOC, Dr Rebecca Bingham, said that if they had known an inmate was that sick, they would have treated him. Joseph didn't tell anyone he was feeling bad in time.
Joseph Alexie was set to get out of jail this June.
Sarah Palin has been sued by a prisoner named Berry L Jack, who claimed he was raped for 3 days, treated at a medical facility, and then denied recommended therapy thereafter.
Jack brought the suit against Sarah Palin and Debbie Miller, Correctional Superintendent at the Mat-Su pre-trial facility, Palmer, on March 10, 2008.
Berry Jack's claim and amended claim contain the following passages:
"I was raped and beaten for 3 days while in the custody of the Department of Corrections. The Anchorage Sexual Assault Response Team and the State Troopers told the DOC that I needed extensive therapy. The answer was NO.
One mental health worker said to me: "Everyone needs a bit of a stiff dick stuck inside of them from time to time."
I made many requests for treatment and orders came down from Debbie Miller that the answer was no and for me to deal with it.
I wrote a letter to Governor Palin asking for help and her first letter said she supported Debbie Miller. On December 23 I wrote to the governor again and she turned the State Troopers on me.
On March 12 all my evidence court documents were destroyed by the DOC."
The outcome of Mr Jack's court case, June 2, 2008:
ORDER OF DISMISSAL
Berry L. Jack, a self-represented prisoner, filed a civil rights complaint, which
this Court screened as required under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A.1 Mr.
Jack then filed an amended complaint, as permitted by the Court, but since that
time, mail sent to him has been returned to the Court, and Mr. Jack has filed no
notice of change of address.
It looks like, having made the effort to file a lawsuit, Berry Jack has gone missing while his case was being dealt with by the Court. It's very unlikely that anybody will go to the trouble of finding out what happened to him. Neither Sarah Palin nor Debbie Miller had to respond to his allegations.
It's interesting to note some similarities in the attitudes of these people in positons of power, as described above.
Joe Schmidt feels victimised and bullied, Dr Rebecca Bingham denies any responsibility for either case and ultimately blames a prisoner for his own death. Sarah Palin famously feels victimised all the time, denies responsibility for anything and is very good at blaming others for her mistakes, ill-judgement and shortcomings.
For people who constantly say that they are all about honesty and accountability, they seem to close ranks and collude to deny wrongdoing, suppress any attempts to verify the truth and are very quick to apportion blame to others.
These are the things that define the ethos of Sarah Palin's office.
UPDATE! I found Mr Jack in the system after June 2nd. For court case details, click here. Navigate through the tabs to find all dates, etc. (Posted by Regina at 23:32)
More on Joe Schmidt on ADN and KTUU (page 1) Joe Schmidt's web page. Previous post on this blog.
Rebecca Bingham on MRSA (page 2 of KTUU report) and Alexie's case
Berry Jack's claim, amended claim and Court case outcome.
Article about assault on Berry Jack on ADN.