The deaths of three people in two weeks at Western Alaska jails underscore a perennial problem that rural officials have attempted to address: a lack of public safety personnel and facilities in villages.
The Association of Village Council Presidents, a regional tribal consortium made up of 56 federally recognized tribes of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, surveyed facilities last summer and found a lack of infrastructure.
Some village public safety buildings lack heat or plumbing. Fire codes do not require sprinkler systems and the state fire marshal's office does not routinely inspect them.
Becca White, 24, and Isaiah Parka, 22, died April 28 in a fire that burned down the village jail in Napakiak, a community 15 miles southwest of Bethel. Two guards were seriously injured trying to save them. The state fire marshal and Alaska State Troopers are investigating the cause of the fire.
The state fire marshal's office reviews building plans for rural jails, said State Fire Marshal Richard Boothby, and make sure they comply with the International Building Code. However, buildings with fewer than six cells fall into the same category as office buildings in Anchorage, he said.