Inmates, citizens talk about reentry into communities
Dean Williams, Alaska’s Commissioner of Corrections, was in Nome Aug. 28 and 29 to discuss the problem of the reentry of prisoners into their communities. Two days of discussion of the issue included a screening of the Norwegian film “Breaking the Cycle,” which is about the emphasis on rehabilitation of prisoners to cut down on recidivism. On the second day the discussion took place in the gym at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center.
The film, which was shown at Old St Joe’s, compares prisons in Norway and Texas. The purpose of a prison, or perhaps one purpose, is to reform offenders so when they return to society they don’t reoffend. “Breaking the Cycle” examines reoffending through the eyes of convicted criminals in two different justice systems. Alaska’s recidivism rate is around sixty percent while Norway’s is twenty percent. Those who viewed the film were given a survey about recidivism and community reentry. This survey was developed by the Nome Reentry Coalition.
On Wednesday about 75 people gathered in the gym at Anvil Mountain for an Oprah-style radio event with Alaska Public Radio’s Anne Hillman as the facilitator. The participants were seated in a large circle and included a dozen or so prisoners in their saffron prison garb, staff from the facility, interested citizens and others involved in public safety. Dean Williams was there as was Alaska Senator Donny Olson. There were also several residents of Nome’s Seaside Center. Hillman was in the center with her microphone. Anvil Mountain is the fourth prison involved in APRN’s series. The radio production apparently will air on KNOM.
“The stereotypes that come across in the media are not always the truth,” began Hillman. It was an odd statement for a media personality. Due to poor sound quality much of the proceedings were unintelligible.
But the issue is a real one. Many prisoners who emerge from Anvil Mountain have a tough time getting the traction needed to resume their lives as productive citizens. In prison they work through programs, which help them avoid the traps which got them incarcerated in the first place. But the reality of life outside the facility can be tough to deal with. The biggest expenses on the outside are shelter, food and transportation. In rural Alaska the cost of all three is staggering. How does a recently released prisoner manage to get a job good enough to pay the rent, put food on the table, and get around? The Nome Reentry Coalition hopes to help prisoners headed out to succeed at solving these problems.
The prisoners interviewed by Hillman spoke of the trouble they’d had after being released and how those troubles led them back into prison. One man told of spending 20 of his 38 years in prison and wondered what he would do when he was released. His hope was to move to Anchorage to be with his wife and kids. Another prisoner pointed out that the incarcerated lose all the good influences in their lives. They are deprived of hunting, camp life and the love and support of family members.
Commissioner Dean Williams knows Nome well as he served here for over eleven years as part of the criminal justice system. He moved to Nome in 1988 and supervised the juvenile facility. Later he was for five years at the DA’s Office doing investigation and coordination on criminal cases. He left for Anchorage, then returned to serve as the juvenile justice superintendent. After that he returned to Anchorage as superintendent of the McLaughlin Youth Center.
At the end of the session in the Anvil Mountain gym Williams praised the staff at the prison for their work with the inmates. “You can decide how the prison can be different in your community,” he said.
“There’s no reason these people can’t go outside the prison walls to do good things. Make this facility the way the community wants it to be.”