Inmate deaths in DOC custody has ACLU of Alaska demanding answers

Alaska civil liberties union is now calling for an independent review after 14 inmates have died this year, two this week alone
Two more inmates have died while in the custody of Alaska’s Department of Corrections, according to a press release issued Tuesday. That brings the total number
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 7:14 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - With two additional inmate deaths, 14 have died in Department of Corrections custody this year according to a press release issued by the department on Tuesday.

The highest number of deaths in the past decade reached 15 in 2015, according to the Department of Corrections. Megan Edge of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska serves as director of the Alaska Prison Project and says the deaths in 2015 concerned then Governor Bill Walker so much that he ordered an independent review of the department. Edge says that kind of independent investigation is needed now.

“Getting information from the Department of Corrections is incredibly challenging,” Edge said.

The project is dedicated to ensuring state prisons and jails comply with state and federal laws regarding the humane treatment of inmates.

“This is an agency that pretty much operates under a veil of secrecy, so this is about accountability, this is about transparency,” Edge said.

Edge says she worked at the Department of Corrections as the Public Information Officer from 2017 to 2019. Now two years later, she switched careers and fights to ensure the rights of those who are incarcerated. Edge says she’s concerned about the rising death rate of inmates in the department’s custody.

“This isn’t a coincidence, people don’t die for just no reason,” Edge said. “What we’re seeing, all of these deaths is very abnormal. We need answers.”

In the past, the department has not issued press releases for every inmate’s death. On Tuesday, the department issued a release to announce that two more inmates died in their custody. Both deaths occurred less than 24 hours apart, according to the press release.

37-year-old Lewey Matoomealook was pronounced dead at Alaska Regional Medical Center on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 7:18 p.m. He was charged with theft, violating conditions of release and criminal trespass. Matoomealook had been in custody for 13 days and was still awaiting sentencing, according to the release. Just 19 hours later, 48-year-old Marcus Gillion was also pronounced dead at Alaska Regional Hospital. He was charged with assault and had been in custody for one week while awaiting sentencing

In each press release regarding an inmate’s death, the department states, “every prisoner’s death is reviewed by the Alaska State Troopers. The cause of death is only determined by the state medical examiner. Due to privacy and security, Alaska DOC cannot release confidential personal information, or medical information due to HIPAA regulations.”

The department has not responded to emails or phone calls containing questions regarding the 2022 inmate deaths.

“The state of Alaska has the responsibility to protect every person in their care and custody,” Edge says. “They should be just as alarmed as we are.”

This article has been corrected to accurately reflect Megan Edge’s title as Alaska Prison Project director.