Anchorage sees uptick in people walking away from halfway houses
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In any given month during the last two years, the number of people walking away from Anchorage’s halfway houses could be counted on one hand.
Some months passed with no one walking away. But in August, eight people did.
The Department of Corrections attributes the uptick to three possible factors that were, in part, set in motion by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
‘I’m leaving. I’m done.’
After midnight on Aug. 21, staff members at the Cordova Center were conducting a headcount when they noticed Daniel Martin, 50, had packed his belongings in a black bag.
When asked what he was doing, Martin told them, “I’m leaving. I’m done,” according to court documents.
Martin left through the front door of the home at 12:53 a.m.; he was serving time for probation and parole violations, assault and obstruction of an investigation.
“There is no information on his current whereabouts or how to contact him,” an Anchorage Police Department officer wrote in a complaint for a felony escape charge later that day.
Eight days later, Anchorage police say a woman reported someone stole her maroon Mitsubishi Endeavor. It had been parked at a gas station at Muldoon Road and Duben Avenue with her purse, phone and keys inside.
According to court documents, the woman tracked her iPhone in the moving, stolen vehicle to a parking lot near 5th Avenue and Gambell Street where she confronted Martin and reclaimed her vehicle.
Police responded and arrested Martin. He is now in custody, facing new charges of escape, first-degree vehicle theft and various counts of theft.
Secure transitional facilities
The account in court records of Martin’s departure from the Cordova Center illustrates the nature of confinement in Alaska’s halfway houses, formally referred to as community residential centers by the DOC.
The majority of people placed in CRCs do choose to finish serving their sentences without leaving illegally — but it is a choice left to them.
“Community residential centers are designed to be secure transitional facilities that allow offenders more freedom and flexibility to promote a positive transition back into society. It is a privilege to be released to a CRC, and individuals must meet a certain criteria to be eligible for placement," DOC spokesperson Sarah Gallagher wrote in an email.
While residents who choose to leave are charged with escape, the act of leaving is as simple as walking out the front door.
“Staff are trained to deescalate situations and attempt to reason with residents to discourage them from leaving, but it is true they cannot physically restrain that person,” Gallagher wrote.
Gallagher noted that most offenders who become walkaways leave custody while off-site — leaving for an approved job or appointment, then failing to return.
“After every walkaway, an incident debrief is performed by staff and corrective actions are identified and addressed,” she wrote.
Alaska saw large numbers of people walking away from halfway houses in 2015 and 2016, at one point averaging one per day, with the majority of incidents occurring in Anchorage.
In March 2016, 26 people walked away from halfway houses in Anchorage, the highest monthly count in the last five years. The statewide total for that month was 32.
The numbers started to drop in mid-2016 after the DOC changed the criteria for placement in halfway houses, most notably, disqualifying people who had pending charges or were not yet sentenced.
From July 2018 through July 2020, the highest monthly count of walkaways in Anchorage was five, according to data provided by the DOC. The average number of monthly walkaways was less than three.
Then, in August of this year, eight people walked away from Anchorage CRCs.
Gallagher said the increase could be caused by multiple factors:
- First, the DOC has changed how it handles violations. Now, most infractions result in an in-house sanction, rather than a return to jail. The change is aimed at helping residents rehabilitate and transition back into society, Gallagher explained.
- Additionally, more people are living in CRCs now. The DOC re-opened Parkview Center in Anchorage in June, creating an additional 112 beds, though Gallagher said, on average, only 50 residents are living there. Parkview Center is one of three halfway houses in Anchorage. The others are the Midtown Center and Cordova Center.
- Lastly, the DOC expanded its criteria for placement in CRCs during the pandemic, in an effort to create additional space inside institutions for social distancing, according to Gallagher.
The change in criteria impacts people who are there for confined placement, meaning they are not allowed to leave to go to a job or other activities.
The most notable change is that people who previously qualified for placement during the last 60 days of their sentence now qualify for placement during the last year of their sentence.
“This criteria will be reevaluated once COVID is behind us to see if it is a practice that could continue to assist in managing our population,” Gallagher wrote. “In addition, this also addresses the Legislature’s desire for the Department of Corrections to expand the availability of the CRCs to aid in the reentry efforts of offenders.”
Already in September, at least three more people have walked away from Anchorage halfway houses.
APD, which has been notifying the community of the escape warrants via Nixle alerts, confirmed Thursday morning that the three individuals, as well as three of the eight people who walked away in August, are still at large.
It is possible for people who choose to leave halfway houses to be unaccounted for months.
In one notable case, Jerod Alexander, 30, who is charged in a News Year’s Day shooting and was allegedly involved in an APD SWAT standoff on Jan. 1, had been wanted on an escape warrant for months.
According to a criminal complaint filed in July 2019, Alexander left the Cordova Center to work an auto detail shop and did not return.
A request to the DOC for the total number of halfway house walkaways in Anchorage who are still at large has not yet been fulfilled.
After several requests placed over two weeks for an interview with a DOC official for this report, Gallagher said the DOC would be denying the request. Two subsequent requests for a reason the DOC would not participate in an interview were not answered.
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