A fledgling courier service started by the wife of the state's prison work farm manager was being pushed in May as the exclusive business for copying and providing inmate files from the state's new Goose Creek Correctional Center.
After the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska balked at the $90 fee, a higher-up at the Department of Corrections told Goose Creek it was inappropriate to promote one vendor like that and Confidential Couriers wasn't ever used, according to Kaci Schroeder, department spokeswoman. Because the practice was halted before it began, there was no ethics breach, she said.
"It is not the policy of the Department to require anyone to use a courier service to obtain documents," she wrote in an email.
Confidential Couriers' business license lists the owner as Mat-Valley Potato Growers LLC. The potato business is owned in part by Adam Boyd, a Palmer potato farmer who has been contracted to manage the Point MacKenzie farm since 2007, as his late father did before him. Adam's contract ranges from $61,000 to $101,000 a year, depending on the number of hours and work done, according to the department. Adam's wife, Kira Boyd, said she runs the new courier service.
Point MacKenzie Correctional Farm and Goose Creek Correctional Center, just a few miles apart, share a superintendent, Amy Rabeau, who has run the work farm since the Palin administration in 2007 and Goose Creek since 2011, before the first inmates arrived last year.
Rabeau didn't return messages left at Goose Creek. Schroeder said she was answering questions on behalf of Rabeau and the department. Kira Boyd answered a few questions, then said she wanted to talk to her husband. Adam Boyd didn't return calls.
"There is no connection with Goose Creek," Kira Boyd said. "It's just a confidential courier service. Basically inmate files need to be transferred sometimes, and it needs to be confidentially done, and so that's where it came about."
The ACLU regularly looks into inmate concerns about a variety of topics: overcrowding, access to religious services and health care, and lack of treatment, among others. It first sought records regarding a particular Goose Creek inmate's complaint in a Feb. 27 letter, said Katie McKay Bryson, ACLU director of public education and advocacy.
She didn't hear back within two months, the normal time the ACLU allows for production of inmate records. On May 7 she called Goose Creek and a sergeant told her the prison had a new practice on inmate records.
"She was very clear that it was the superintendent's new policy, that the superintendent had directed them, that they are now using a confidential courier service in order to copy inmate files," Bryson said.
The sergeant also told her which service to use: Confidential Couriers, Bryson said. The sergeant followed up with an email that included Kira Boyd's name and the courier service's email address and phone number. The contact information had been sent from the Confidential Couriers email address to an address with adamboyd in the name, and then to the sergeant who sent it to the ACLU.
"It certainly looks bad from the outside," said Tom Stenson, the ACLU's legal director. "It's not clear that the business exists for any other purpose other than to get courier service from Goose Creek itself."
Normally, the ACLU gets inmate records through the mail or by email or fax, he said. He doesn't remember ever being told to use a courier before.
While it may seem a petty matter, Stenson said the deal raises questions about the operation of Goose Creek, the state's newest, biggest and most expensive prison.
"If we have an unorthodox business relationship with the courier service, what's going on behind the scenes when bigger amounts of money are at stake?" he said.
When Bryson called the contact number, a woman answered, "Hello." It didn't sound like a business, Bryson said. The woman told her it would cost at least $90 to send the copies by courier, plus copying fees. The woman didn't immediately have a set price in mind for copies, though later quoted 10 cents a page, which is less than the state charges, Bryson said.
Deputy Corrections Commissioner Leslie Houston told Goose Creek not to direct anyone to Confidential Courier, which hadn't even gone through the procurement process, Schroeder said.
Alaska's prisons have been struggling with the demand for inmate records from defense lawyers, nonprofits including the ACLU and the Disability Law Center and other state agencies, such as the Office of Children's Services, Schroeder said. The department gets 50 to 100 requests a month statewide.
Before the situation at Goose Creek came up, the Department of Corrections already was working to prepare a list of approved courier and copy services that meet requirements for confidentiality, bonded staff, turnaround time, security of files and delivery, she said. The prices will be listed too.
No one will be made to pay a courier, Schroeder said.
"Records can still be mailed, faxed, or emailed if the timeline allows," she said.
Reach Lisa Demer at email@example.com or 257-4390.