Alaska News

Former Alaska corrections chief picked for top Colorado prisons job

Former Alaska Department of Corrections commissioner Dean Williams has been appointed to Colorado’s top state prisons job.

Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis announced in late December that Williams will take the helm of the state’s corrections department.

"Colorado already has a great Department of Corrections and I’m deeply honored to be a part of the next chapter,” Williams said Wednesday.

He said he would be transitioning to his new job starting this weekend.

Williams had a long career in juvenile justice in Alaska before being appointed to lead Alaska’s prison system by then-Gov. Bill Walker in January 2016.

He was removed from his Alaska prisons chief position this fall by Gov. Mike Dunleavy after about two years on the job.

Dunleavy appointed Nancy Dahlstrom, a former Republican lawmaker from Eagle River, as corrections chief.


During his roughly two-year tenure, Williams formed an internal investigation unit, which was disbanded by the Dunleavy administration.

He was also a proponent of some of the most progressive prison reforms Alaska has seen, voicing support for vocational training and reduced use of solitary confinement.

He and a group of lawmakers visited “radically humane” Scandinavian prisons with an eye toward applying ideas in Alaska to reduce recidivism.

He also repeatedly clashed with the correctional officers union.

Williams has long cited Colorado’s system as an inspiration, especially its efforts to end the use of long-term solitary confinement.

Colorado made major changes to the way it treats inmates after a former corrections chief, Tom Clements, was shot and killed on his doorstep by a parolee who was released after having spent seven years in solitary.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.