City of Seward, Crime, Economics

Seward Jail faces uncertain future

20150402_121440By Brent Ursel –

Rumors.
Let’s face it, they tend to run rampant in a small town. The juicier the better. And really, who hasn’t passed on some information that they heard from a “reliable source.”

Some rumors have just enough truth to them to seem plausible: “Did you hear that the State of Alaska is running a huge budget deficit? The Seward Community Jail might close because the funding to the Department of Corrections will be cut!”

Usually, I am not one to take much stock in rumors. I have spent the last 27 years in small communities where the adage “don’t believe anything that you hear and only 20% of what you see” was sage advice. So when I heard this rumor regarding the possible closing of the Seward Community Jail, I wondered, could this possibly be true?

Rather than speculate, I asked Seward Chief of Police Tom Clemons about the future of the Seward Jail.

It turns out that this particular rumor might actually be true.

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The current budget for the Department of Corrections has been slashed by 25 million dollars (although the Governor did submit an amendment on February 17th to restore 7 million dollars to the Community Jail Program). The Seward Jail’s annual budget of $680,000 is entirely funded by this state program. Six Seward residents are currently employed full time to work in the jail;  all six are at risk of losing their jobs on July 1st, 2015 (just in time for Seward’s biggest party of the year!)

The massive cuts to the program have caught many communities by surprise and left them in shock. Jails can hold prisoners for up to 30 days after being sentenced, hold persons for pretrial arraignments, and hold people that are placed in protective custody.

Chief Clemons isn’t sure what the City of Seward would do if the funding were eliminated. He doesn’t believe that the City could absorb the cost of running a full time jail, and he is in discussion with the City Manager, Jim Hunt, regarding the situation.

If the jail were to close in Seward, where would those arrested go? Surely crime doesn’t take a holiday simply because funding is cut.

Chief Clemons informed me that the nearest facility is Wildwood (in Kenai-approximately 100 miles away). The issue of transporting Seward’s prisoners would fall to the Alaska State Troopers-whose proposed budget is also being severely curtailed.

Will the jail remain open or will it be a victim of declining oil revenue? We won’t know the answer to that one until April 19th, 2015-the last scheduled day of the current legislative session-provided a special session isn’t called.

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