KENAI, Alaska — An investigation by the Alaska Ombudsman’s office found that the Alaska Department of Corrections acted wrongly when officers forced a group of male inmates in Seward to strip naked in 2013 and then left them in cells that way.
An inmate submitted a complaint on Aug. 23, 2013, claiming that in retaliation to inmates acting up, correctional officers took him and 11 other inmates out of their cells “for no reason,” shackled them in handcuffs and forced them to strip naked in front of female staff, the Peninsula Clarion reported (http://bit.ly/2yRdDbq) Sunday.
The complaint claimed the inmates were left naked for several hours in cells that had blood and feces on the walls and floor.
In correspondence with the Department of Corrections about the complaint, department officials held the position that the correctional officers were justified in responding to the inmates’ actions.
One of the department’s staff members said the reason the inmates were left naked in the cells for so long is because it took time to round up enough blankets for them, according to the ombudsman’s report.
“It is not reasonable that it took 12 hours to locate 12 smocks or blankets within the facility,” the report stated. “Even if it were, it was unreasonable to leave the inmates naked in cold cells with only metal or concrete meds to sit on. That decision makes it clear to the Ombudsman that this was a punitive measure and not a security measure.”
Neither the department nor the ombudsman’s office could comment on whether the correctional officers involved in the incident had been dismissed.
The ombudsman made multiple recommendations, some of which have already been implemented and others that were declined by the Department of Corrections.
State ombudsman Kate Burkhart said her office does not have authority to enforce recommendations made in reports. Only the agency or the state Legislature can enforce the recommendations.
“That’s why we publish these reports,” Burkhart said. “The more the recommendations we make are based in evidence and are reasonable and practical and are hopefully collaborative with the agency, the more likely they are to be implemented.”
One of the declined recommendations was for the correctional officers to wear body cameras to help clear up inmate complaints. That’s something police officers have begun doing in departments across the country, including in Bethel and Ketchikan.
Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Megan Edge wrote in an email that the department is still drafting policies for the use of body cameras at other institutions.
Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com