Recommended improvements to prison bunk beds incomplete


By Jill Burke

Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 7:51 PM AKDT

Department of Corrections cites COVID-19 for interrupted repairs

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – An architect’s report obtained by Alaska’s News Source shows in December 2019 the Alaska Department of Corrections was warned that “without remedial action the Department should expect more bunks to fail.”

More than a year later, only a portion of the recommend structural reinforcements are complete, according to DOC spokesperson Sarah Gallagher, who provided written answers to our questions via email.

In June and November 2019, upper bunks fell, in each instance injuring an inmate below.

In December 2019, architect Steve Fishback prepared a report entitled “Anchorage Complex West Upper Bunk Structural Repair.” The report notes that the facility had single bed cells until sometime in the late 1980s, when upper bunks were added to double occupancy.

“Over the past 30-35 years the added bunks performed as expected, but pretrial facilities are typically tough environments and even robust products are tested and fail. In this case prisoners have found that if they lay on their back on the lower concrete bunk and push up with their legs onto the upper bunk causing a slight movement and likely some noise. Given enough pressure the cantilevered front corner can be flexed creating a three foot long lever that pulls against the upper bunk bolted attachments,” Fishback wrote.

He also offered a warning: “Once an element is found to be weak in a detention setting word travels quickly and that component becomes a target for further abuse. Without remedial action the Department should expect more bunks to fail.”

Attorney Reilly Cosgrove represented one of the injured men in a lawsuit against the department of corrections, and told Alaska’s News Source that while his and another case have settled, he remains concerned for inmate welfare.

“Every night hundreds of men are being forced to sleep on a bunk bed that could kill them,” Cosgrove said via email.

Through Gallagher, the Department of Corrections declined to participate in a recorded interview.

On Monday, Gallagher told Alaska’s News Source “all of the beds listed in the inspection report of ACCW received repairs, even if they were minor. Minor repairs include replacing the anchors that hold the bunk frame to the wall, resetting existing anchors further into the wall or performing welding work.”

Fishback’s report recommended steel structural reinforcement of the upper bunks. When further asked if DOC had implemented those specific fixes, Gallagher said “…maintenance workers were able to complete the recommended improvements to the bunks on 3 out of 12 mods (roughly 108 beds) before the pandemic hit and work had to be suspended.”

“As soon as we are able to do so, the bunk upgrades will resume,” Gallagher said.

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