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Plan released to protect public safety and control prison spending

Recommendations would reduce recidivism, save $424 million over next decade


December 10, 2015
Thursday PM

(SitNews) Anchorage, Alaska - The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission today announced a comprehensive set of data-driven recommendations for the upcoming legislative session that will reduce recidivism, hold offenders accountable, and control the state’s prison growth. If adopted, the reforms would reduce the state’s average daily prison population by 21 percent over the next 10 years and would save the state, $424 million.

“The comprehensive policy package released by the Commission today reflects a fresh look at our corrections system,” said Governor Walker. “By keeping violent and career criminals behind bars and strengthening alternatives for nonviolent offenders, the Commission has developed a roadmap that will ensure Alaskans get the best public safety return on government spending.”

The Commission’s proposed recommendations would:

  • Implement evidence-based pretrial practices;
  • Focus prison beds on serious and violent offenders;
  • Strengthen supervision and interventions to reduce recidivism; • Ensure oversight and accountability; and
  • Advance crime victim priorities.

Alaska launched the comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice in June 2015 in response to its charge from Governor Bill Walker, former Chief Justice Dana Fabe, Senate President Kevin Meyer, House Speaker Mike Chenault, and Attorney General Craig Richards, the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission engaged in a sixth-month study of Alaska’s sentencing and corrections systems, analyzing data, evaluating innovative policies and programs from other states, reviewing research on what works to reduce recidivism, and developing comprehensive and tailored recommendations. The Commission is a diverse group of high level criminal justice stakeholders including law enforcement, judges, the Department of Law, the Public Defender, the Department of Corrections, legislators, and members representing crime victims, Alaska Natives, and the Mental Health Trust Authority.

“The Criminal Justice Commission has held public meetings and listening sessions across the state, including in rural and bush communities, and has spent hundreds of hours interviewing stakeholders,” said Greg Razo, Chairman of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission. “Our recommendations reflect input from a broad range of perspectives, including law enforcement, courts and attorneys, practitioners from corrections and probation, victim advocates, treatment providers, and members of the Alaska Native community.”

Alaska’s unified jail and prison population has grown by 27 percent over the past decade, nearly three times faster than the state’s resident population. Growth in the prison population has also required enormous capital costs, including the $240 million Goose Creek facility, opened in 2012. Despite this growth in the prison population and spending on corrections, Alaskans are not getting a good public safety return on their investment: nearly two out of every three inmates who leave Alaska’s prisons return to prison or jail within three years.

“Making our corrections system more cost-effective and data-driven will have a lasting impact on how we protect public safety and hold offenders accountable for years to come,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer. “Our limited state funds should be spent on proven strategies that work to reduce recidivism.”

“The Commission has given us a lot to chew on and mold into a legislative package,” said Speaker Mike Chenault. “Facts are facts: we’ve got to get costs under control and reform our system, or risk sinking more money on new prisons. We can’t afford not to change the way we approach public safety.”

Key Commission findings include:

  • Alaska’s pretrial population has grown by 81 percent over past decade, driven by longer pretrial lengths of stay in prison.
  • Three-quarters of offenders entering prison post-conviction in 2014 were convicted of a nonviolent offense.
  • On any given day, more than 20 percent of Alaska’s prison inmates are being held for technical violations of probation or parole.

“Alaska should be maximizing the impact of our crime-fighting resources,” said Senate Majority Leader John Coghill. “Now the Legislature has a way forward to achieve better public safety outcomes in a cost- effective way. I look forward to sharing the data and research behind this package with the Legislature in the coming months.”

During the roll-out of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission’s recommendations today, Sen. John Coghill (R-North Pole), announced that he will follow-up by introducing an updated version of Senate Bill 91 – a comprehensive reform package estimated to save $424 million over ten years – during the upcoming legislative session.

“Two out of three people coming home from prison commit new crimes and are back within three years,” said Coghill, a member of the commission. “We’ve got to break that cycle, and these recommendations have to find their way into a bill of law. SB 91 will be a roadmap for how to do it.”

The commission’s Justice Reinvestment Report makes recommendations in three major areas: pre-trial detention, community supervision, and sentencing structure.

“Last year, three quarters of those admitted to prison were non-violent offenders,” said Coghill. “They come in for 30 to 60 days – just long enough to lose their job, their house and custody of their kids. Then we release them worse off than when they came.

“The current system costs the state more money every year, without seeing better outcomes such as improving public safety, better forms of accountability and cost savings. This reform would save the state an anticipated $424 million over the next decade.”

In 2014, the Alaska Legislature established the inter-branch Alaska Criminal Justice Commission to review the state’s sentencing and corrections systems.

Governor Bill Walker thanked the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission for releasing its extensive report on justice reinvestment strategies for the state today. In the report, Commission members provide data-driven recommendations for the upcoming legislative session to protect public safety, control corrections spending, and invest the potentially vast savings from averted prison growth into probation, parole, and other community practices that cut crime and reduce recidivism.

“I thank members of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission and the Pew Charitable Trust for taking the time to put forward this valuable information,” said Governor Walker. “I look forward to reviewing the report and learning more about the research and data that went into these recommendations.”

Quoting a news release from the Governor's office, the Commission’s report is responsive to a joint request from Governor Walker, former Chief Justice Dana Fabe, Senate President Kevin Meyer, House Speaker Mike Chenault, and Attorney General Craig Richards.

“I also want to thank Senate President Kevin Meyer and House Speaker Mike Chenault for their leadership on this issue, and to Senator John Coghill and his dedicated staff for bringing this all together,” Governor Walker said. “I stand with legislative leaders when I say that criminal justice reform is a priority for the state, and I applaud them for their creation of this important commission.”

The state received technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership between Pew and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


On the Web:

Download Report: Click Here
Alaska Criminal Justice Commission Justice Reinvestment Report 2015 (pdf)


Source of News:

Alaska Criminal Justice Commission

Office of Governor Bill Walker

Alaska Senate Majority


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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