Heidi Zemach for SCN
Some 15-16 eligible male inmates from Point Mckenzie Correctional Institute, the state’s minimum security correctional center, and Wildwood Correctional Center, the state’s prison in Kenai for long-term medium-and minimum security custody inmates, have qualified for a new work-re-entry program to work at Icicle Seafoods/Seward Fisheries. It’s an experimental two-week program, beginning next week.
They will be temporarily housed at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, and transported directly to and from the seafood processing facility before and after their shifts in the Department of Corrections prisoner-transport van.
Inmates from the Wildwood facility recently worked at another fish processing plant in Kenai with good results, said DOC spokeswoman Kaci Schroeder. She did not say which plant, however.
The idea of the new program is “a self-esteem job,” she said, “It also teaches a skill. They’re going to walk out of prison with a skill. It’s a huge re-entry effort.” While working at Icicle, they would be learning all aspects of processing plant work, Shroeder added, but she did not think they would be doing the regular 13-hour shifts that other workers do, however.
The DOC also provides inmates at Wildwood with other job-related skills inside the prison facility. The transitional program at Wildwood includes vehicle maintenance and repair, plumbing, carpentry, gardening, electrical, food service and computer skills. But this new program is the only one in Alaska where inmates are currently working in the private sector, she said.
The inmates will be wearing home-prison style electronic ankle bracelets, with GPS, thus allowing corrections officers to track their movements, she said. Local police have been notified, and will be immediately alerted if any of the inmates stray from the perimeters they set around the facility, said Seward Police Department Lieutenant Butch Tiner. They will be delivered to and from the seafood plant in a DOC van, and returned to Spring Creek, where they will be temporarily housed, at the end of their shift. A DOC representative told Seward that an officer would make spot checks during the day to see how things were going at the plant.
Tiner said he did not foresee any problems for the community at large, adding that these are inmates who have been screened, are nearing the end of their prison terms, and that certain types of offenders, such as sexual offenders, will not be among them.
Shroeder denied that a shortage of workers at Alaska’s processing plants this summer contributed to DOC’s plans for the new summer work program. But seafood plants across Alaska did anticipate having a more difficult time recruiting an adequate workforce this summer with the loss of the J-1 (international student) Visa program. Alaska Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski designed special legislation to address the issue, and Begich placed it in the immigration bill creating a new program that allows foreign workers to be employed at seafood processing plants provided that the seafood industry can prove that there’s a need, and that they can’t fill those jobs with the local work force.
Calls were not yet returned by the media spokesperson at Icicle Seafood’s corporate office in Seattle for comment on the inmate-job program.