Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
Alaska's aging prison population/Anchorage IT director finally out
Plus there's a new round of free at-home covid tests.
Good afternoon, Alaska. It’s Monday.
In this edition: Alaska’s prison population continues to get older with serious repercussions for the state’s budget and the general wellbeing of Alaskans behind bars. The uptick happens to coincide with the repeal of the largely maligned Senate Bill 91. Free covid tests are back just as the state announced its latest loosening of reporting requirements. Meanwhile, Anchorage’s IT director, who played right into an effort to overturn the results of the city’s elections earlier this year, is finally out. Also, the reading list.
The number of older Alaskans in state prisons continues to grow largely unabated, with people 55 and older making up 14.66% of the total prison population. A new report by the Anchorage Daily News examines the realities of Alaska’s aging inmate population. Namely, it’s costly and challenging to care for incarcerated people as they are aging and dying. According to a study cited by the ADN, the annual cost of incarcerating an older person can be two or three times as much as someone in a younger age group. Much of that is in health care costs, which the state almost entirely covers because private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare don’t cover care provided in prisons. To that end, the state is working on setting up its dialysis center and is (hardly) paying inmates to be caregivers.
Interestingly, the portion of Alaska’s prison population that’s 55 and older rose sharply after 2019, which would be the year that the largely maligned criminal justice bill, Senate Bill 91, was repealed. Before that, the year-over-year increases were smaller, and 2019 had actually marked a slight decline from the year prior. In the three years since the repeal of Senate Bill 91, the portion of incarcerated people 55 and older rose from 12.08% to 14.66%. Health care spending also increased dramatically in that time, going from $51.27 million to $74.32 million.
Senate Bill 91 saw that the aging prison population would be an issue and set up a system of geriatric parole—largely akin to the federal compassionate release system for older and very sick inmates—hoping they could receive care through other systems. In the time that it’s been on the books, there were just two applications and—like most parole applications in Alaska—were denied.
That’s how much it costs to get four free at-home tests through the U.S. government’s relaunched testing program. You can order the at-home tests here. Also, the updated vaccine is starting to become available at Alaska pharmacies.
It also comes as the state is no longer requiring medical providers to report COVID-19 cases to the state. According to a report by the Alaska Beacon, the state says that’s because it’s no longer considered a “novel disease” and that the prevalence of unreported at-home testing already makes tracking the trends of COVID-19 cases hard.
The head of Anchorage’s Office of Information Technology finally resigned last week amid ongoing questions about his involvement in what sure appears to be a plot to overturn the city’s election results earlier this year. Marc Dahl has been on leave for more than four months following allegations that he invented a new—and, critically, bogus—city policy for how USB sticks should be handled just hours before a close Mayor Dave Bronson ally, former chief of staff Sami Graham, used said policy to try to challenge the results of an election that was not going the mayor’s way.
There were some significant holes in the plot from the start, including the fact that Dahl doesn’t have the power to establish such new policies unilaterally and that such policies wouldn’t even extend to the Municipal Clerk’s office, which operates as part of the Assembly’s branch of government.
The big question left unanswered is just how involved Bronson and his administration were in this whole thing. So far, they’ve feigned ignorance on the entire situation and all but screamed bloody murder after the Anchorage Assembly approved subpoena powers to get to the bottom of the mayor’s involvement. The city ombudsman found the whole affair so troubling that his report called on Bronson to fire Dahl and referred the investigation to the state for possible criminal charges.
In announcing Dahl’s resignation, Bronson spokesperson Veronica Hoxie said Dahl was going “to pursue new career opportunities.”
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