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Something doesn't appear to be right at the Alaska's Department of Corrections. Some of the events described below date from April 2008, but one of them is as recent as December 2008. I researched the issues quite fully and could not find references to any substancial changes in procedures or approach since the problems started. As a matter of fact, the excuses offered by the very people in charge suggest that there was never any intention to take any measures to address a number of grievances.

I have separated the issues according to the people responsible, to show the consistency in their responses to criticism. They are: Joe Schmidt, Commissioner for the Department of Corrections, Dr Rebecca Bingham, Clinical Director for the same department and Governor Sarah Palin, who's responsible for the appointments of heads of departments.

I must point out that what brought these issues to my attention was a brief article in the Anchorage Daily News about Governor Sarah Palin choosing Commissioner Joe Schmidt to be next in line to take the reins as governor of Alaska should anything happen to herself or lieutenant governor Sean Parnell. Sarah Palin and Joe Schmidt attended Wasilla High School together and she appointed him to the top job in the Department of Corrections when she was elected governor in 2006.

A comment on another article, (Stumper, by Andrew Romano, Newsweek) prompted some more digging into the problems faced by prison staff and inmates.

Posted By: akcorrec (October 8, 2008 at 1:33 AM)

"I am a female and work at Alaska’s only maximum security prison. Sarah Palin appointed a good buddy of hers to be our Commissioner of Corrections, Joe Schmidt. Joe Schmidt has deliberately made management decisions that have made our jobs, as correctional officers, more life threatening.  

We tried going to Sarah Palin with our concerns but she wouldn’t listen to us. We then decided to submit a ‘no confidence’ vote in Schmidt. Out of the 733 correctional officers working in the state of Alaska over 500 of us voted. Out of those, less than 20 said they had confidence in Schmidt. The rest of us voted ‘no confidence’ in his leadership. This was unprecedented. At no time, before Schmidt was appointed as our commissioner, had we ever initiated a ‘no confidence’ vote in one of our commissioners.

Surely now, we thought, our governor Sarah Palin will hear and investigate our concerns regarding Joe Schmidt. That didn’t happen. Rather, she publicly said that she stood by Schmidt and that 97% of Alaska’s correctional officers are just a bunch of "disgruntled employees".

MRSA is running rampant in our institutions and we are deliberately being understaffed. Joe Schmidt is not only allowing understaffing but is actively encouraging it.

Prisoners with MRSA are being treated but not officially diagnosed with the bacterium. By not having cultures done, to determine the presence of MRSA, they are then able to be released right back out into the general prisoner population. If they were officially diagnosed then they’d have to be medically isolated. Consequently other prisoners and staff members keep contracting MRSA.

When a staff member contracts it, we’ve had two new cases in the last month and a half alone at my facility, they are told to "pin point exactly" where in the institution they contracted it. It’s a bacterium that can only be seen under an electron microscope yet we’re supposed to say exactly where we got it???  

The department, under Joe Schmidt’s leadership, will not pay medical costs or reimburse leave time used, for any staff members that come down with MRSA unless they can prove that they got it at work. The very same place that contagious prisoners are being treated and then sent back home to their cells to expose every other prisoner and staff member they come into contact with.

We are also constantly under staffed. Rather than calling officers in on overtime, when we’re under manned, we’re left short handed. There are many officers willing to come in and work. All the department has to do is ask.  

We also have mandatory posts that are never to be left unmanned. They are being manned by "phantom" officers. Which is to say one officer assigned to two posts. The officer’s name will be filled in, on paper, as filling in a certain post when in actuality he or she is working another one as well.  

Twice, in the last year, we’ve had "man down" alarms go off in the facility and not enough officers to be able to allow anyone to respond to the emergency. By the grace of God, both times, the alarms were accidentally set off and no officer’s life was in actual jeopardy. But we may not always be so fortunate. When that happens, whether an officer loses his or her life to MRSA or a prisoner assault, we’ll be able to credit Sarah Palin and Joe Schmidt with murder."

Prisongate, in three parts.

Joe Schmidt

The Alaska Correctional Officers Association gave the state corrections commissioner Joe Schmidt a "no confidence" censure vote on Tue, April 22, 2008. ACOA union members voted 514 to 19 against Schmidt.

Overcrowded prisons, a drug-resistant skin infection being passed around the prisoner population and staff, plus a no-confidence vote for Commissioner Joe Schmidt are some of the problems faced by Alaska's Department of Corrections.

It is accepted that Alaska's jails are filled beyond capacity. But there are differing opinions about whether the state is doing enough to keep the facilities safe and clean.

There are more inmates than ever at Anchorage Correctional Complex.  Alaska Correctional Officers Association, which represents officers, says the state is reducing the number of guards patrolling the jails.

Commissioner Joe Schmidt and his deputy commissioners claim the union is playing dirty to get more control over the department and its management. "I felt bullied," he said.

Schmidt claims he has made a lot of difficult changes since being appointed at the end of 2006 - reducing overtime, promoting rehabilitation programs, and pushing aggressively for ways to reduce costs and the state's staggering 60 percent of offenders who end up back in jail. .

Governor Sarah Palin released this statement at the time:

April 22, 2008, Anchorage, Alaska – Governor Sarah Palin today expressed her full support for Department of Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt. The Alaska Correctional Officers Association voted today in favor of a "no confidence" measure.

"Commissioner Schmidt has my full support as he and his team continue to bring remarkable reforms to the Department of Corrections," Governor Palin said. "As Commissioner, Joe has emphasized recruitment and hiring new correctional officers, bringing 34 new officers on board in FY 2007 with an additional 43 authorized for FY 2008. Joe’s strength is his respect for the hard work and talent of his department’s employees, and his understanding of the role the department plays in protecting the public, while providing offenders with the opportunity to successfully return to society. Joe has my unconditional support."

Rebecca Bingham

Rebecca Bingham is the Department of Corrections Clinical Director.

MRSA is rampant behind bars in Anchorage. The guards say the administrators are not doing enough to keep them safe in the state's overcrowded prisons. They say the department won't acknowledge dangerous health issues, like constant exposure to MRSA, a difficult-to-treat staph infection.

But the Clinical Director refuted that claim. "Once they are in here, as long as the institution is keeping things relatively clean and the inmates and officers are washing their hands frequently, it really has a much lower level than the outside," said Dr Rebecca Bingham. She also said that although the DOC doesn't track cases of MRSA, she believes there are four unconfirmed cases of the infection.

The state says it is doing its best to keep the jails clean and safe.

A more recent case illustrates Dr Bingham's attitude to prisoners' health.

Joseph Alexie, an Alaska Native, died of tuberculosis on December 9, 2008, while held at Red Rock correctional center in Arizona. Alaska Department of Corrections has a contract with Red Rock to house Alaskan inmates. Although Joseph Alexie was in Arizona when he died, he was governed by the Alaska's department health standards.

"Occasionally villages will have an outbreak of tuberculosis where quite a few people get exposed and go on the INH treatment, but it is pretty rare in the United States for someone to die from it," said Clinical Director Dr. Rebecca Bingham.

Myra Colley, Joseph Alexie's cousin, had a different view."He kept going and trying to get checked up, but they kept sending him away telling him it was bronchitis, or this or that, and they were just giving him a wrong diagnosis every time, without really giving him any medical attention."

His family said no matter what his crimes, he should not have died behind bars from a controllable and treatable disease.

Though bound by federal laws not to talk about the health of specific inmates, Dr Bingham said that if they had known an inmate was that sick, they would have treated him. "Joseph didn't tell anyone he was feeling bad in time."

Joseph Alexie was set to get out of jail in June 2009.

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin has been sued by a prisoner named Berry L Jack, who claimed he was raped for 3 days, treated at a medical facility, and then denied recommended therapy.

Jack brought the suit against Sarah Palin and Debbie Miller, Correctional Superintendent at the Mat-Su pre-trial facility, Palmer, on March 10, 2008.

Berry Jack's claim and amended claim contain the following passages:

"I was raped and beaten for 3 days while in the custody of the Department of Corrections. The Anchorage Sexual Assault Response Team and the State Troopers told the DOC that I needed extensive therapy. The answer was NO.

One mental health worker said to me: "Everyone needs a bit of a stiff dick stuck inside of them from time to time."

I made many requests for treatment and orders came down from Debbie Miller that the answer was no and for me to deal with it.

I wrote a letter to Governor Palin asking for help and her first letter said she supported Debbie Miller. On December 23 I wrote to the governor again and she turned the State Troopers on me.

On March 12 all my evidence court documents were destroyed by the DOC."

The outcome of Mr Jack's civil rights court case, June 2, 2008:


Berry L. Jack, a self-represented prisoner, filed a civil rights complaint, which
this Court screened as required under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A.1 Mr.
Jack then filed an amended complaint, as permitted by the Court, but since that
time, mail sent to him has been returned to the Court, and Mr. Jack has filed no
notice of change of address.

It looks like, having made the effort to file a lawsuit, Berry Jack has gone missing while his case was being dealt with by the Court. It's very unlikely that anybody will go to the trouble of finding out what happened to him. Neither Sarah Palin nor Debbie Miller had to respond to his allegations.


It's interesting to note some similarities in the attitudes of these people in positons of power, as described above.

Joe Schmidt feels victimised and bullied, Dr Rebecca Bingham denies any responsibility for either case and ultimately blames a prisoner for his own death. Sarah Palin famously feels victimised all the time, denies responsibility for anything and is very good at blaming others for her mistakes, ill-judgement and shortcomings. (As seen in her dealings with criticism by members of the media.)

For people who constantly say that they are all about honesty and accountability, they seem to close ranks and collude to deny wrongdoing, suppress any attempts to verify the truth and are very quick to apportion blame to others.

These are the things that seem to define the ethos of Sarah Palin's office.  After so many newspapers columns dedicated to Troopergate, perhaps some attention should be given to what, in my opinion, amounts to Prisongate.


This article appeared on my blog on February 28, 2009. Some readers expressed concern over the fate of Mr Berry Jack, so I did some further research and posted an update:

I found Mr Jack in the system after June 2nd. For court case details, click on link. Navigate through the tabs to find dates, etc. It seems, quite simply, that the prison authoritites couldn't find Mr Jack to deliver mail connected to his civil rights case, but they managed to find him when the time came for him to face criminal charges... he was sentenced to four years behind bars for second degree theft.


More on Joe Schmidt, ADN and KTUU (page 1)
Joe Schmidt's web page.
Joe Schmidt on palingates.
Rebecca Bingham on MRSA (page 2 of KTUU report)  
Joseph Alexie's case.
Berry Jack's claim, amended claim and court civil rights case outcome.
Article about assault on Berry Jack, ADN.
Berry Jack's court criminal case details, after June 2nd.
Newsweeks Stumper article and akcorrec's comment.
Sarah Palin's choice of next in line, ADN.
Governor Sarah Palin's website press archive.
Post about Human dignity on palingates
American Civil Liberties Union, Alaska.
Palingates blog

Originally posted to palingates on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 10:24 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  These allegations are very troubling (19+ / 0-)

    to say the least, but nothing involving Sarah Palin is ever surprising.

    "We had a decisive win... and so I don't think there is any question we have a mandate to move the country in a new direction." Barack Obama

    by pollbuster on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 10:33:30 AM PDT

    •  Au contraire. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pollbuster, luckylizard

      She is a delight to every cynic, a constant source of amusement, as her actions can only be described by an eternal, celestial WTF.

      Iuris praecepta sunt haec: Honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere. - Ulpian, Digestae 1, 3

      by Dauphin on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 10:35:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  If only amusement cd satisfy the life-threatened (6+ / 0-)

        A constant source of amusement for those who don't have to deal with the consequences of how she operates.

        Death from a treatable disease? "Typhoid-Mary"-like conditions, willfully clung to in the name of "we're reducing costs!"

        I'm with pollbuster. These are troubling. Or, it's going to take more (and numerous) deaths of people to show just how delightful and amusing that Sarah Palin can be.

        GOP = Oppositional Defiance Disorder

        by auntialias on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 10:43:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  True, that. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Virginia mom, palingates

          As someone who is half a world away I (and I'm not the only one) view her as a creep who's escaped from a very dark British comedy. It has to be fall less amusing to be actually subjected to her tender mercies. You have my condolences.

          Iuris praecepta sunt haec: Honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere. - Ulpian, Digestae 1, 3

          by Dauphin on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 10:49:23 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Sarah Palin on these troubling allegations: (0+ / 0-)

    Gosh darnit, let's have a shout out for all our jails--wink wink wink

    "We had a decisive win... and so I don't think there is any question we have a mandate to move the country in a new direction." Barack Obama

    by pollbuster on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 10:36:46 AM PDT

  •  MRSA is a horrible community health problem (6+ / 0-)

    MRSA is genuinely frightening. If a person does not treat it right away with the strongest available antibiotic, Cipro, they run the risk of dying from it -- it is the flesh-eating disease you hear about being acquired in hospitals, locker rooms, jails, and other places where people congregate.

    My brother is a physician who believes that touching patients is an integral part of the healing process. He caught MRSA and, after finding it on himself, checkd his wife and kids -- yep, they had it. It is very contagious.

    My brother is famous for washing his hands -- they are red from the constant washing. He has tried to be very careful.

    Needless to say, he practically boiled his kids and then they all were treated.

    For the prison not to acknowledge the seriousness of MRSA is a foolish and dangerious non-action. The U.S. Department of Health should be on this right away.

  •  The Alaskan Federal AG should investigate this (9+ / 0-)

    As Soon As Possible.  It appears that consitutional and civil rights are being denied with deadly consequences.

    Isn't there a law?

    ..most profound moments of my life...the last few -- And, for Global COOLING, if it's man-made and doesn't move, paint it WHITE!

    by tristan57 on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 10:43:29 AM PDT

    •  The AK AG resigned (0+ / 0-)

      recently under a cloud of criticism for his groveling support of Sarah Palin during the Troopergate scandal -- to wit, telling individuals who received subpoenas from the AK Legislature that they didn't have to show up for questioning.

      The Assistant AG is now acting, but Sarah has not named a new AG.  There's been a LOT of talk about making the AG an elected instead of an appointed position.

      BTW, nice diary, Regina.  :)

  •  Another incident of (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, Katie71, palingates

    republicans-and their appointees-acting in a conscienceless, heartless manner. Shirking responsibility and blaming everone and everything but themselves and/or each other. Hard to believe.

    "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction." --Blaise Pascal

    by lyvwyr101 on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 10:45:08 AM PDT

  •  It's just ... (0+ / 0-)

    a bunch a "gotcha" journalists stirring things up.  Nothing to see here, move along.


    "Barack put Helen back in the front row"

    by egarratt on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 10:48:53 AM PDT

  •  Sounds like cronyism is alive and well (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ginja, Lujane, litoralis, Knarfc, palingates

    Palin land. One would think that the unions might have more of a say in this. Perhaps a strike is in order. Malfeasance seems to be running rampant in the Alaska prison system.  

    All those who believe in psychokinesis, raise my hand - Steven Wright

    by blueyescryinintherain on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 11:02:04 AM PDT

  •  Thank you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Regina for an informative diary, well done.

    And, welcome to Daily Kos.


  •  Sadly, prisons seem to be the growth industry. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Are culture is running a muck. This war on drugs, should be a war on poverty.
    In Alaska, we are building a few new correctional buildings. A new crime lab and a prison out side of Wasilia. Lots of high paying jobs you know. And then we have another reason to build a 800,000 dollar bridge to get to the new 700,000 dollar prison.

    I feel our economic  system is on the verge of a crisis, and we already want to design more prisons because this new one is going to be at max capacity upon completion.  

    Our schools are not doing well keeping kids engaged and out of trouble. Your good or bad! Black or white! Right wing or lefty.

    Palin likes to have power over people. Loyal troops to build roads, prisons, pipelines, and bridges to more prisons. How *ucking creative of are GOV.

  •  Regina, welcome (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dlcampbe, palingates

    ...and thanks for the long view. just like your postings over at PalinGates, I enjoy reading this, it's really is a very fine! very insightful post!
    GLAD you're here, now I get to read you twice as much!

    "If you really want something in life you have to work for it. Now quiet, they're about to announce the lottery numbers." Homer Simpson

    by tealwomin on Tue Mar 10, 2009 at 05:15:17 PM PDT

  •  Another Palin "Gate" (0+ / 0-)

    Very good article Regina! So happy to see you on Kos!
    Looking forward to seeing more "gates" ferreted out. Seems like all the qualifications you need to be appointed by GINO is a)having been a classmate b)keep your mouth shut c) extended family member
    cronyism at its best. Maybe when she gets locked up, the MRSA problems will be fixed?

    I can do anything I want because I'm the mayor until the courts tell me different!-Sarah Palin as Mayor of Wasilla

    by crystalwolf on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 10:45:24 AM PDT

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