Alaska’s $240 million Goose Creek Correctional Center has finally completed its long journey from conception to construction to opening. The first full-time prisoners began arriving this week.
The project, which created beds for more than 1,500 inmates, will allow Alaska to bring back more than 1,000 prisoners housed in Colorado. It has been controversial from the beginning, as questions about high costs and unforeseen planning changes dogged the facility.
For months, the finished facility sat empty as the Department of Corrections waited for the Alaska Legislature to appropriate funds for furniture, mattresses and supplies. To ensure that the under-warranty, state-of-the-art security systems worked, a group of prisoners was bussed to Goose Creek from the nearby Point MacKenzie Correctional Farm beginning in March.
In addition to tighter-security units, the prison features several units where prisoners will be responsible for themselves -- mowing grass, shoveling snow, even checking their own mail. The aim, the Department of Corrections has said, is to increase responsibility and accountability among the prisoners. More serious offenders will be placed in different units than those whose crimes were less severe.
The first quarter of Fiscal Year 2013, which began July 1, will see 128 prisoners moved into the prison. By September 2013, the Department of Corrections hopes all 1,050 prisoners currently housed out of state will be at Goose Creek.
The prison is located on a lonely part of Point MacKenzie Road, 30 miles outside of Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla. Eventually, it will employ about 350 guards and other staff. Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt has said that he expects the area to eventually resemble Cañon City, Colo., which has seen a sizeable population spring up around prison facilities.
It doesn’t hurt that Port MacKenzie is only 9 miles from Goose Creek, either -- that’s one proposed terminus for another controversial project, the Knik Arm Bridge, which would provide a shorter drive between Anchorage and Wasilla.
That’s all a long way off, though. In the meantime, Goose Creek -- on that lonely road in the middle of the woods -- will sit mostly empty for a while longer.