Alaska inmate deaths reach highest yearly total in 20 years
Family members question whether the Department of Corrections is doing enough to help inmates
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A total of 16 inmates have now died while in the custody of Alaska’s Department of Corrections this calendar year.
The 16 deaths of incarcerated persons are the highest number reported since 2002, when the department also reported 16 inmates died that year. The department issued a press release Tuesday announcing the death of 69-year-old Paul Allen Harris at Goose Creek Correctional Center. Harris had been in custody since 2016 and the press release described Harris’ death as “expected.”
Family members of 48-year-old Marcus Gillion say that wasn’t the case for them. They were shocked to learn that Gillion had died on Sept. 25, while being incarcerated at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Gillion was the 14th inmate this year to die while in department custody. Gillion’s family says he had a heart condition and was diagnosed with schizophrenia but appeared to be healthy while taking his medications. Gillion was arrested when his mother, Carolyn Gillion, called police for help. She said, although he didn’t hurt her, she was afraid of what he might do.
“He started acting strange, talking strange, out of his head and so I didn’t know no other way but to try to get him some help through the courts,” Carolyn Gillion said.
Marcus Gillion was then arrested for assault. His mother says she plead with the judge to get him into a mental health treatment program instead of sending him to jail.
“I was denied,” Carolyn Gillion said.
Marcus Gillion then died after just one week of incarceration at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Marcus’ brother Donald Gillion said he has been calling the Alaska State Troopers, the State Medical Examiner’s Office and the Department of Corrections looking for answers. He was told he’d have to wait until an autopsy report was issued, which could take up to 12 weeks.
“Something is going on that, I’m not blaming the DOC but, you know, something is going on,” Donald Gillion said. “They’re not getting the proper attention or something for those people to be dying at a rapid pace like that, you know.”
Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Betsy Holley said that every prisoner’s death is reviewed by the Alaska State Troopers and the State Medical Examiner.
“The department continues to provide training to staff to assist in identifying potential risk factors within incarcerated individuals,” Holley wrote in an email. “We have a variety of healthcare professionals who are trained to recognize and treat symptoms of seriously complex medical issues that are further complicated by years of substance abuse and lack of access to adequate healthcare. The department is constantly looking at ways to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the individuals in our custody.”
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