A look inside Hiland Mountain Correctional Center

Superintendent speaks to chamber


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Hiland Mountain Correctional Center is seen Nov. 7. The Eagle River facility currently houses 450 inmates.

MIKE NESPER

Mike Gilligan has a tough job.

As superintendent of Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, he’s responsible for the safety of the facility’s 110 employees and 450 current inmates, as well as the residents of Chugiak-Eagle River.

“You are our community,” Gilligan told the audience at the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Eagle River Ale House on Wednesday, Nov. 6. “You and your families are the people that we are sworn to protect every hour of every day of every year.”

The Eagle River prison has 11 buildings on 63 acres, Gilligan said. Hiland opened its doors in 1974 as a medium-security facility for men, he said.

Men and women were both housed on site at one time, Gilligan said, but as the female population grew, the men were displaced and Hiland evolved into an all-female facility with an increased security level. Today, fences with razor wire surround the prison, which is patrolled by a vehicle 24 hours a day.

A diverse population lives inside Hiland’s walls.

The facility houses sentenced and unsentenced women, those who committed misdemeanors and felonies, and inmates with short-term sentences and those who will die behind bars.

“That’s the population that we have to manage,” Gilligan said.

Hiland receives new inmates almost daily, Gilligan said. When other facilities around Alaska are at capacity, inmates with longer sentences are relocated to Eagle River, he said.

“We are the state’s facility for housing women,” Gilligan said.

Hiland does have a segregation unit, Gilligan said, but most inmates have keys to their cells. Gilligan likened the prison to college dormitory housing.

Locking offenders away for their entire sentence doesn’t help anyone, he said.

“They have nothing to look forward to,” Gilligan said. “They have no hope, and they have nothing to gain.”

In fact, it creates an environment that leads to a worse attitude and better criminal skills upon release, Gilligan said.

“We don’t want that,” he said.

“We have to manage them,” Gilligan said. “That’s the only way we can provide a secure environment.

“We keep then structured, and we keep them busy,” he said.

Many of the inmates have a “level one” mindset, Gilligan said. Citing the work of University of Southern California professor, David Logan, level one inmates believe “life sucks.” It’s the attitude of gang members, Gilligan said.

A large number of women at Hiland are at level one, Gilligan said. The goal is to have them move onto level two — “my life sucks.” If that transition happens, Gilligan said, it’s easy to move them to level three, which is where society wants inmates to be at before being released.

Level three consists of an attitude that “we’re individuals, we’re competing with each other, we’re doing great things, but we’re still individuals,” he said.

Level four is when an organization is operating for the greater good, Gilligan said, and the final level is “life is great.”

In order to show inmates they can succeed, Hiland offers several programs, Gilligan said. Education from basic reading and writing skills up to vocational training is offered. Mental heath services, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are also offered.

Community outreach is another focus at Hiland.

Inmates wash blankets and cages at the Mat-Su Animal Shelter assist with Habitat for Humanity projects and are involved in the Adopt a Highway program. Inmates have also done work at Beach Lake Chalet, Gilligan said, and each year send Christmas gifts to less fortunate children and donate funds to the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center.

“They give back to the community,” he said.

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com.

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