Cea Anderson says her daughter, Kirsten Simon, a mother of two battled substance abuse and survived being raped twice. But her life came to an end in an Anchorage holding cell on June 6, and her family wants to know why.

"No one came in except a guard, who asked her to get up off the bed and go to court,” Anderson told a legislative panel Tuesday.

According to Anderson, that lack of help from DOC came despite concerns about her health.

“She said she was too sick to move,” Anderson said. “It's my understanding there was no medical assistance given to my daughter."

Anderson and Vernesia Gordon, whose fiancé also died in an Anchorage jail cell this year, were invited to testify before the panel.  Lawmakers want to know what could have been done to prevent the five jail deaths that have occurred in Alaska Department of Corrections facilities so far this year.

DOC numbers show there were eight deaths in 2013 and 11 in 2012. In 2002, the DOC says 16 inmates died in custody -- a year which marked the most deaths in one year since 2000.

While prison officials say one death is too many, they note Alaska’s prisons are among the safest in the country. According to DOC, autopsy reports on Amanda Kernak and Davon Mosley, two young inmates who died after being held at the Anchorage Jail in April, show both died of natural causes.

“The (death) rate in Alaska DOC is actually 16 percent lower than it is in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and it's 34 percent lower than the corrections national average overall,” said Inmate Health Administrator Laura Brooks.

Corrections officials say DOC has already made changes over the last several months, by adding around-the-clock care for many inmates who may have serious conditions. More medical staff have also been hired.

There is also a new DOC policy for handling death investigations.

“We are drafting a new death-of-prisoner policy; the last one was revised in 2008,” said DOC Commissioner Joe Schmidt.

DOC officials have reviewed all five deaths in the prison system so far this year, and determined medical staff who responded did act appropriately.

But Anderson, who was told her loved one had a medical issue, isn't convinced jailers did enough.
“I'm just wondering if she would be here today, that's my question,” Anderson said.

Schmidt says DOC will be looking into additional reforms that could potentially reduce inmate deaths. There is no word on any further inquiries into the matter by this legislative panel or others.