Today, the House Community and Regional Affairs committee in the Alaska Legislature did not hold a scheduled hearing on deaths of Alaskans in Department of Corrections (DOC) custody, which have occurred at record rates since 2022.

After committee chair Representative CJ McCormick called the properly noticed hearing to order shortly after 8:00 am, Representative Kevin McCabe objected to the hearing. McCabe relied on a parliamentary rule regarding legislative bodies holding hearings that involve issues that are currently in litigation. The purpose of the hearing was to listen to experts and Alaskans impacted by the record number of deaths in DOC facilities and did not focus on a particular legal case. Still, the committee voted 4-3 against holding the hearing and Chair McCormick was forced to adjourn the meeting.

“Today’s scheduled hearing was an opportunity for our elected leaders to hear about the conditions of Alaska’s jails and prisons that are killing incarcerated people at unprecedented rates,” said Megan Edge, Prison Project Director for the ACLU of Alaska. “I’d like to thank Chair CJ McCormick, Rep. Donna Mears, and Rep. Rebecca Himschoot for their work to coordinate and votes to hold the meeting. The committee members who voted against this hearing refused to listen to Alaskans who want to shed light on a problem that has rippling impacts through our communities. These members clearly signaled that they are willing to sweep this issue under the rug and will not hold our state departments accountable for keeping Alaskans safe and alive.”

Jacqueline Shepherd, Prison Project Intake Attorney for the ACLU of Alaska was scheduled to testify as the investigator of each death that occurs in a DOC facility. “The true shame of failing to hold this hearing is for the families that were on the line and listening in. While we will never be able to bring back their loved ones, this hearing would have shown them that people in power care about incarcerated Alaskans. The committee members who voted against this hearing instead showed them disrespect and their willingness to skirt the issue, rather than listen to hard realities that Alaskans are facing,” said Shepherd.

The ACLU of Alaska remains committed to holding our government accountable for deaths that have occurred in DOC custody and advocating for changes to the department that will make conditions safer and investigative processes more transparent.