Spring Creek Experiences Changes

Heidi Zemach for SCN

Spring Creek Superintendent Craig Turnbull Speaks at YOP graduation

Spring Creek Correctional Center, located near Fourth of July subdivision at the end of Nash Road in Seward, will continue to see some significant changes, particularly in the staffing of correctional officers and in its overall focus, beginning July 1st, the date of the new state budget fiscal year. As a result of the changes, Seward could see an influx of new workers and their families coming here to live, while also losing some families in the shuffle.

Spring Creek is Seward’s largest full-time employer, providing jobs for as many as 200 staff members. It has the capacity of holding over 500 male inmates, but is currently running about 37 beds below capacity, however, much to the state prison administration’s chagrin.

The prison has experienced some major changes over the last few years, such as loosing its furniture factory in March of 2010, and its Youth Offender Program Spring Creek School following graduation last month, in order to transfer to Anchorage, and the retirement of Assistant Superintendent Tom Reimer April 30, to name just a few.

Spring Creek Assistant Superintendent Tom Reimer retired April 30, 2012, after 27 years

The state correction’s department has “reshuffled the deck” at Spring Creek, and six of its 12 other prison facilities in order to be as efficient and lean as possible as it opens its newly-constructed $240 million Goose Creek facility located in the Mat-Su Borough, said Alaska Department of Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt.

The new staffing model, that took effect July 1, calls for an increase in the number of officers that work an eight-hour shift, and restructures the prisons’ staffing pattern at night. This shift gets rid of the one week on/one week off shifts for corrections officers that enabled many of them to live in Anchorage, and to commute to their jobs in Seward every other week. Just two years ago, as many as half of those correctional officers did so for a number of reasons: because their spouses already had jobs in their career fields, and could not find good jobs in Seward, or they had purchased homes elsewhere and did not want to move their families to Seward; or because they had difficulty affordable homes here, according to longtime prison Superintendent Craig Turnbull, who could not be reached for comment for this article. A result was that the prison experienced high turnover of new staff, and became known within the prison system statewide as a training facility for new corrections officers, who benefited from the expert tutelage of Turnbull, before transferring elsewhere. The officers that commuted often bunked together in cheap trailers, homes or shared rental accommodations while they were working.

Spring Creek Prison teachers Mary Alice and Gary Blount retire



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“We knew this facility was going to be challenging because many people commute, and so we delayed the implementation until July 1, while we did the other ones in May,” said Schmidt, while visiting Seward recently. “There’s a bunch of folks that wanted to transfer to the valley from here, and those transfers are complete. Meanwhile we’re back-filling with people that we’re hiring to work eight-hour jobs. So those that are not fond of the eight-hour shift, will hopefully, in a relatively -short period of time, come to work knowing that it’s an eight-hour shift.” Some Seward families here also have chosen to move to the valley for new positions there.

Schmidt began his career in corrections 25 years ago, first working at a half-way house in Seward, and then at Spring Creek, while living in Anchorage. “I feel the pain, I know exactly what the correctional officers are thinking,” he said, “but I also know that even back then, people not living in the community was an issue. The community felt like they put the building up and it never really came to fruition as far as community development.”

On the other hand; “the state doesn’t build prisons to develop communities, or because it wants to,” he said, “It builds prisons because it has to.” And although, the administration didn’t change the shifts to force people to live in Seward, that may be one of the side effects of the new model, he said.

The fact that the prison provides a large stable, full-time work force benefits the Seward community in several ways, according to Alyssa Shanks, an Alaska economist for the Alaska Department of Labor. Good jobs brings stability that other businesses can rely on to keep people in the area, and provides a workforce with disposable income that will use their goods and services, she said. Local schools also can count on their children to attend, which helps with their staffing and budgeting. The city also receives utilities and taxes from the prison. A greater percentage of prison employees living here should likewise help bolster the local economy.

The department has been recruiting for both for the Goose Creek, and Spring Creek facilities together, and has completed the first few rounds of recruitments, Schmidt said. But as of last week, he could not yet say how many permanent jobs had been filled at Spring Creek. He just hopes it will all happen soon, and to everyone’s satisfaction.

June 2012 Grads March In

Meanwhile, Spring Creek Youth Offenders Program, a part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District just graduated its last six students from the unique prison high school, and closed its doors after 13 years, having graduated a grand total of 200 young offenders aged 22 and younger either with high school diplomas or GEDs. That program, born and developed in Seward, will be transfered to the Anchorage Correctional Complex, a pre-trial facility where as many as 30-32 students can attend the school at one time. Longtime Seward teaching-couple Mary Alice and Gary Blount retired, after 11 years at the Spring Creek school, and teacher Jennifer Swander, will mover over to Seward High School to teach English.

The transfer to Anchorage helps bring the Seward facility back to its original mission as a closed, maximum-security prison, rather than one in which young offenders, including some who have not yet been tried or sentenced, live in 60-men dorm facilities with empty beds that must nevertheless be paid for, a situation that the prison system can ill afford, Schmidt said. The Anchorage facility has dorms of all sizes, that can accommodate the number of student inmates attending the school at any given time, thus allowing more beds to be used. Also, in the Anchorage facility, the YOP participants will no longer have to spend as much as their time mingling with the more hardened, older prison population, with the exception of those in the medical unit.

Goose Creek, has successfully opened its doors to the first 30 inmates, and with the exception of some broken pipes that had to be fixed, is working out well, Schmidt said. Within 11 months, the new prison is expected to house more than minimum security 1,000 prisoners, including some 600 inmates who have been housed out of state in Hudson Colorado, at Alaska taxpayer’s expense. By September of 2013, the number will rise to about 1,450, nearing the facility’s capacity. Spring Creek, in turn, will receive the state’s maximum-security inmates, returning the prison to the type of facility for which it was originally intended.

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31 Comments

  1. pam grunert says:

    Should be a interesting story to follow.

  2. Mayor David Seaward says:

    Having to switch over from 1×1 work week schedule to eight (8) hour shifts will be challenging for the staff. Having a week off certainly has it advantages. As for community of Seward, this change is of great significance to the local economy and community development.

    All 200 positions require relocating to Seward. This will positively impact the local real estate markets, businesses, schools and create more taxpayers. Also creates good paying year-round employment opportunities for locals.

    Community of Seward is expecting great projects and opportunities for everyone: SMIC expansion, relocation of CDQ fleet, Jesse Lee Home, UAF Marnine Center Research Vessel, Rehabilitation of Old Shollys, AVTEC and city projects.

    It is up to the employers to continue to hire locally much as possible. It’s up to the responsibility of those seeking employment to take the opportunity.

    • I am one of the out-of-towners. Even if I wanted to move, affordable housing in Seward is practically non-existent. I have looked several times and the prices asked for condition the houses are in is ridiculous. Couple that to higher cost of utilities and food and it isn’t worth it. I can get a newer larger house on a larger lot with lower heating bills in Anchorage or the Valley. And all 200 positions are not relocating to Seward, at least not yet.

      • whataretheythinking says:

        Housing in Seward is horrible. Costs to rent now are crazy and if you put a bigger shortage out there it will be even worse. Not to mention the cost to heat and light the place. Couple that with no jobs for spouses. Good luck with this fiasco!

        AND have you seen the streets! Seward is more concerned with a library that few people will use instead of keeping streets in good repair. That’s a wise choice eh?!

        • zesty enterprise says:

          Wait, what? You are more concerned about street repair than a world class library and museum? You’re not that wedded to you are are you?

  3. Mayor, you drank the kool aid!

    Several institutions implemented the 8hr schedule in May and the Department has been able to see the effects. The Anchorage Complex lost several Correctional Officers to other employment opportunities due to the schedule change and they have had little success in recruiting for the 8hr positions. Fairbanks and Palmer have had similar experiences. The new schedule has cost the Department tens of thousands of dollars in monthly overtime (both voluntary and mandatory) and there is no reason to believe it won’t happen here. The upper DOC administration has received input from Correctional Officers, Institutional Administrators and even legislators who have advised against this “reshuffling” for many reasons. The most impactful of these reasons being the large turnover because of the new schedule, the inability to recruit, and the cost (many states in the lower 48 are going to week on week off in their facilities to lower costs and decrease staff turnover due to burn out, the exact opposite direction our DOC is taking).

    However, the Department continues with their plan. Their reasoning for implementing this schedule continues to change. Current the reason is to make the Department “lean and efficient” but based on the increased overtime costs because of this “reshuffling”, I’m confident another reason is currently being constructed.

    For the past few years Spring Creek has enjoyed a very stable workforce. But, by mid-July approximately 30+ of our available 130 correctional officer positions will be vacant, over 24 of those vacant positions due to transfer to the new prison. More than half of those transferring have stated that if it weren’t for the threat of having to go to an 8 hour shift they would not leave Spring Creek. The Department had indeed been recruiting for the past couple of months but are years behind where they should be in recruiting for the opening of Goose Creek. As of today, the Department has no more officers then it did a year ago, and Goose Creek is now coming on line. That will be less officers dealing with more inmates Statewide. Mr. Schmidt could tell you how many applications were received for the latest Spring Creek posting but the number was so low (single digit) that it would cause city leaders to become concerned. Perhaps that is the reasoning for his recent PR campaign, an attempt to curtail the inquiries that will result from this staffing fiasco.

    Approximately 50% of the Correctional Officers at Spring Creek commute from out of town. That’s historically how it has been since its opening. No matter what schedule is implemented, that isn’t going to change. There have never been enough interested people locally to fill the positions. Even with the week on/week off schedule very few people have moved to Seward specifically to work at Spring Creek. To suggest that moving to an 8hr schedule will result in people moving here is absurd. Working in a maximum security prison is stressful and life changing. The last two years have been the most violent in Spring Creek’s history. This job is not for everyone.

    When Mr. Schmidt took over DOC he began a policy of not filling CO positions while still receiving the funding for those positions. The CO’s felt their safety was being put at risk and conducted a no-confidence vote against Mr. Schmidt. Where the funding for those unfilled positions went is anyone’s guess, but if the recent legislative audit of Goose Creek is any indication it was not even close to being used for its intended purpose. Since that no-confidence vote it has been nothing but constant battles between Mr. Schmidt and Correctional Officers. Almost all of which the Department has lost and it has cost the State hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements and lost arbitrations.

    I’m afraid I must submit this response in anonymity. For while keeping my eyes on those with whom I’m charged it is hard to contend with the very real threat from above.

    • Thank you for posting an informed, well written, and realistic response. I am the sister of on one the correctional officers at Sprink Creek and I know that these changed are not positive. It’s hard to shuffle through all the replies and know what is fairly written,so I really appreciate your reply.

    • akfinlander says:

      Thank you to the person that took the time to write such an informed response. Commissioner Schmidt needs to take time to see where these hardworking correctional officers are going to find affordable housing to uproot their families to relocate. Switching to an 8 hour schedule, endangers correctional officers with lower/disheveled staffing, taking away extremely needed off time for our officers after working in one of the most dangerous work environments, and also uprooting families just to be able to keep their jobs that help protect all of us everyday! I’m sorry ever since Commissioner Schmidt has force this issue he’s only looked out for his Goosecreek Baby that was totally overspent!!!! I’m sorry, I don’t work as a correctional officer that helps keep our most dangerous behind bars, but I do appreciate everything they do and don’t think their safety, work environment and families should have to be impacted for some terrible budgeting by our prior Governor and her Corrections Administration.

  4. I very much appreciate the information submitted above, and it seems you obviously have a good deal more background information than I have. Thanks for sharing. I will do all I can to follow up on this story, and will continue to seek information on the numbers of correctional officers hired, and the numbers of positions that need to be filled, etc. I assume that would be public information. I can be reached at hzemach@gmail.com

    • used2lovemyjob2 says:

      Something to look into, our current commish Joe Schmidt, has ties to a private prison corporation thru a close family member. Soon after being appointed commish, he brought up using privately ran prisons IN Alaska. Hmmm? Weird….. Some of us think that bringing in private prisons is his end game with this “re-shuffle”. He will make the working conditions so horrible, that staff will leave in droves. Then, after the OT budget goes thru the roof, he will introduce a proposal to bring in a private firm to run the state prisons. We already have an out of state contract with a private firm……rumor is, this is the same firm his close family member works for. Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest? Not with this administration. Look at the fiasco with the new prison in the valley! That whole deal was shady and when they were investigated, Schmidt and Co refused to turnover documents…..This guy is as sleazy as they come.

  5. Cogito Ergo Sum says:

    Heidi and Mayor Seaward, I can help you out here! As a rule of thumb in dealing with Commissioner Schmidt: If his lips are moving, he’s lying!

  6. Mr Mayor, maybe you should give up your job on the slope and work an 8 hour day. Lose your week off or two weeks off what ever it may be. I am sure that is a reason why you work away from your family and in another town also. So you can have the extra time off to spend with your family Or better yet maybe you should talk with some of the officers that work there. Maybe they can fill you in on the story. I know for a fact that officers that work there contribute to our community. I see them at our stores and restaurants all the time. They help protect our community every single day while putting their lives in danger. So maybe you shoud get both sides of a story.

  7. Schmidt needs to go! says:

    Mayor it is a state job not city job so hiring goes state wide as well as we know not enough qualified people live in Seward to run it, you only got one side of the story from the man who has worked a week on/week off in his career and knows it works.

    A no confidence vote for Schmidt why….

    The state correction’s department has “reshuffled the deck” at Spring Creek, and six of its 12 other prison facilities in order to be as efficient and lean as possible as it opens its newly-constructed $240 million Goose Creek facility located in the Mat-Su Borough, said Alaska Department of Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt.

    I guess this means were below staff and he won’t listen to audits that say so??

    Goose Creek, has successfully opened its doors to the first 30 inmates, and with the exception of some broken pipes that had to be fixed, is working out well, Schmidt said.

    I wonder how many people that know Schmidt that help build this new prison and why it will get audited for?? How many of our officials own land up near that area of the new prison??

  8. I have to agree with Slvr. Mr Schmidt is not telling the truth. And the Mayor of Seward is falling for it. Such a shame that people who protect other lives can be treated ths way and it just boils down to not living in the same community of where they work. That situation has been this way from the beginning of time at SCCC. So why take something that has worked all these years and change it? It is not for the better. You will have more violent prisoners heading this way, less officers to take care of them, be more stressed out all this to say money for overtime. It is only going to increase the overtime. People getting dropped to 8’s will then be forced to work another 8 for OT When if they were left alone thy would have continued to work 12 So stick around Seward Mayor and get half of the facts only and see how bad your community can get in. So I wish you the best ..

  9. I absolutely disagree with the changes that are being forced on our correctional officers they put their lives on the line for us and now they are going to be force to choose between their families or finding a new career. Many officers have families in other cites and don’t want to relocate. Even if they move their families to Seward there are not enough jobs for their spouses to find work and we all know that it mostly takes 2 incomes to support a family.

  10. LiveinSeward says:

    It also has to be noted that while the rotations right now give CO’s a week “off.” It truly isn’t a week full of rest and relaxation. These brave men and women are trying to recover from working 84 HOURS in 7 DAYS. How many people can truly do that? This isn’t mentioning overtime hours on their “off” week, whether it’s voluntary or involuntary. Not once in this article was any appreciation given to the staff at Spring Creek who are CONSTANTLY on watch for 12 hours each shift, sometimes more, making sure that the prison is secure, in turn, keeping our community safe. Unfortunately, the propaganda and endless editing mistakes took up too much space. To all the CO’s and other staff at Spring Creek, please know that you are appreciated.

  11. I am not sure how you think the city of Seward would be able to accomodate that many additional families? Having undergone the process of moving to Seward, I can say that it was a somewhat difficult process for those not looking or able to purchase a home. The rentals were very limited and were comprised mostly of low income apartments, for which correctional officers do not qualify. The fuel costs are higher and conveniences are fewer. Many of those who live in Anchorage and the valley do so because they cannot find housing and employment to accommodate their families in Seward. Also a career as a correctional officer is both stressful and dangerous and one of the things that helps to counter that is having a week off to enjoy your family, hunting, fishing, Alaska, ect. It also seems to me that putting officers on 8 hour shifts will increase sick time and time taken to attend things such as doctors appointments and personal matters.

  12. Iused2lovemyjob says:

    The commish is pushing this “re-shufle” out of spite. These changes will force current employees to transfer to Anch, the valley, etc. This will leave Spring Creek with a less staff and with even more overtime hours to cover. This will lead to more serious incidents with the prisoner population due to less programs, yard/rec time, etc because they’ll be confined to their cells more often. Stress levels will be sky high and that’s a recipe for disaster in a prison. If Schmidt wants to save the state money, maybe he should start with his own salary. According to alaskapolicyforum.com; in 2010 Commish Schmidt made more money than the GOVERNOR! Over $20,000 more (wages and benefits)!!!!!

  13. Stupid thing to do…..plain and simple.

    • To those that have to commute to work, if you want to make the people of Seward realize your distaste , do not spend your money in town. Do everything you can to bring your food and supplement fuel ,rent,etc. I know it will be hard but by effecting the citys bottom line, will you start them pressuring the governor for a positive outcome.
      Mr. Seaward, as far as I’m concerned, you just lost a vote…..

      • Word of Caution says:

        Don’t blame Seward, the merchants or good it’s people. Your proposal is misguided- always maintain the high road. This solution will require patience and unity.
        How one acts in the face of adversity,how one acts in an emergency speaks highly of ones self and can ultimately unify a community.
        The Correctional Officers were selected to do their difficult job through a highly structured selection process. The lessons learned in ongoing training, guide them to be role models in both the prison and in the community. What they have committed themselves to do speaks highly of their dedication to the safety of our community. Remember “always do the right thing”.
        Don’t blame Seward for this situation, it’s our home, (and home for some officers 1/2 of their lives),The people of Seward should not to be held responsible or as a pawn in this unfortunate situation.

        • akfinlander says:

          1) Educate your Mayor
          2) Attend your Council meetings and let him know how these Correctional Officers help your business (rent, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, laundry facilities, etc.)
          3) Remember you have the power come election time.

          This is the high road.

  14. lucyatthechocolatefactory says:

    I agree with caution. The merchants have nothing to do with the mayor’s statements. He is uninformed and ill advised. I doubt he has done any research and has just spouted usual inane platitudes. I doubt he has taken the pulse of the rest of the council, city admin or correction personnel. Just another grand orifice.

  15. uneasywife says:

    I am the spouse of an officer at Spring Creek and this change makes me very uneasy! My husband has been hurt at work before while on minimum staffing. The loss of officers is a serious situation! These men and women risk their lives everyday and to purposely increase this risk blows my mind. The week that my husband has to recoup from his work week has now been reduced to two days off that aren’t necessarily my two days off, my family has now lost previous time with a husband and amazing father because he will either be sleeping or working mandatory overtime (which in turn will cause more stress on our family because he won’t be getting the time he needs to wind down from his already stressful work week). My family is one of the lucky ones because I was able to find work in Seward, however, now that our childcare situation will be “reshuffled” there’s one more stressor added to my family’s plate. Everyone already knows that finding quality affordable childcare is extremely difficult add to that the families that have worked out arrangements with coworkers on opposite shifts who live inSeward

    • uneasywife says:

      Who will now have to find other means of childcare and then add in the 200 supposed families that will move to Seward and we have a problem. My family is going to do our best to work with the hand we have been dealt but I encourage everyone to please do your research and know the facts of the situation at hand.

  16. So your Schmidt and your in the pocket of a lower 48 private prison, but Alaskans are traditionally against private prisons because they are corrupt and have poor safety records (you can find piles of documentation on this) You have a ” No Confidence” vote against you so your time in your current position is probably limited (I personally will not vote for Parnell if he has not gotten rid of Schmidt and I suggest the same to all other voters that these two have put in danger) So how can I benefit from my current situation (Alaskan politician motto). Easy all I have to do is convince the public to allow private prisons in before I get removed from my position. Quickest way to accomplish this is to create utter chaos. Make the department of corrections look like it is incapable of protecting the prisoner, staff, or the public. Get as many experienced officers to retire or quit. Get the remaining officers to burn out. Then when the public is sick of hearing about another DOC incident bring in the private prison. Schmidt gets hired on as a consultant for quadruple his current salary. Life is good. Its a simple, effective plan that is made even more effective by the fact that a new prison is opening. This may not be the plan, but it is the most logical. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes in the prison knows that this is a terrible idea.

  17. ~in a small town... says:

    There are several controversial ideas here in the comments
    so maybe they all need to be reviewed and await moderation
    before allowing them to be viewed publicly? …Not really :)

    A relative of mine was one of the first employees after this
    prison opened and had gone back to college to get a BA
    degree in food service in anticipation; that didn’t work out
    however due to the management of Spring Creek and their
    good-old-boys network and cronyism between legislators
    and insiders within state departments of Admin & Correction.

    {Certain conditions that went on in there over the first eight
    years would really make people wonder, if openly known.}

    With that new illogically built prison in the Valley, built on a
    giant swamp & labor/gravel brought in to fill it cost more than
    all of the buildings constructed on top. That’s a fine place to
    rock out during the next large Great AK Earthquake, like ’64.

    There are so many swamps and mud puddles filled with dirt
    all around, we should be considering letting prisoners work
    for 50¢ a day. Why not let them compete with the Chinese
    for your dollars? (After all, the profit from there stays here too.)

    If private prisons are so profitable to attract corporations
    then why do they require taxpayer expenditure support?
    Just like those contracts for the Iraq & Afghan wars, to
    private contractors who go unchallenged by taxpayers…
    & billions+ spent on costly non-competitive war machines.

    It isn’t the government so much as it is corporations set to
    make themselves a great deal before they bankrupt us.
    Why isn’t more effort made to prevent the conditions which
    can contribute to these people ending up in prisons for life?

    At least adverse changes to a prison/system could be revised
    and may, depending on which way the politicos winds blow.

    ~in a small town…
    kenai mountains, ak

  18. akfinlander says:

    I have to agree with all the concerned Alaskans commenting against changing to the 8 hour shift and the opening of Goosecreek. When Governor Parnell cleaned house to make his own Administration why did he kept Schmidt? Almost all other Commissioners were replaced. Governor, do your homework! Our prison system isn’t something to gamble with, we need it secure and ran by a strong, honest Commissioner that backs-up and supports his correctional officers. If we start losing good, hardworking Alaskans because of this, there are two people to point a finger to 1) Governor Parnell and 2) Commissioner Schmidt (#2 only because Parnell should have known better).

  19. Hey Mr. Mayor. Did you check the classifieds in the papers yet? I just did in the Seward Journal….there is a whopping ONE listing for rent! ONE How many of those “200 positions require relocating to Seward” families do you think will fit in there? OH and it was located in Moose Pass….not Seward.

  20. laughoutloud says:

    Shirley – you just proved the point about Coastal Villages. Why is the Council Dead Set on bringing Coastal Villages here – they ‘promise’ 500 or more full time jobs….sure. Perhaps the Mayor is right and the JLH is a better idea for the community to benefit than a multi-million dollar fiasco (can anyone say Grain projects in Delta)