Safer Alaska, Building Resilient Communities

Improving Outcomes in the Criminal Justice System

handcuffs on prison inmate
In response to mounting evidence of major shortcomings in the state’s criminal justice system – including prison populations growing faster than the facilities to house inmates, alarming rates of recidivism (for every 3 inmates released, 2 would return to prison within 3 years), and limited resources to treat underlying substance abuse and mental health challenges – and drawing on successful reform efforts in other states, Alaska recently enacted comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. Some of those changes became effective in July 2016; others will be implemented in the near future.

1. Pass Senate Bill 54 (2017) which, among other provisions, would give judges discretion to impose jail time for larceny, vehicle theft, and other offenses when appropriate. (DPS, LAW) COMPLETED. Bill passed by the legislature in special session; Governor Walker signed SB 54 into law on November 27, 2017.
2. Propose legislation adding Commissioner of Department of Health & Social Service to Alaska Criminal Justice Commission as a voting member. UPDATE: The Governor introduced SB 145 and HB 290 in January 2018 to make DHSS commissioner a voting member of ACJC. The Legislature did not pass the bills.
3. Propose legislation to allow judges to take out-of-state criminal history into account when assessing bail. COMPLETED: Governor Walker introduced legislation to account for out-of-state criminal history in January 2018. The Legislature passed HB 312 on May 11, 2018, which included this public safety priority.
4. Re-evaluate conditions of confinement and methods to reduce recidivism through operational changes. (DOC) UPDATE:
• On January 31, Governor Walker introduced SB 172 and HB 325 to give DOC more flexibility with rehabilitation and re-entry programs, including an exemption from procurement code to enable contracting with more local service providers, and to allow inmate internet access for re-entry purposes. The Legislature did not pass the bills.
• Governor Walker introduced a prison industries bill (SB 214 and HB 402) on March 5. The Legislature did not pass the bills.
IN PROGRESS: DOC is also updating department policies to help expand access to re-entry resources and rehabilitation for those in custody.
5. Continue pre-trial delay workgroup efforts to increase case processing efficiency. ONGOING: The work group developed two revised pre-trial orders for the Anchorage Superior Court. The workgroup is close to finalizing the first order, which addresses pre-indictment delay. The second order addressing pre-trial deadlines is now under consideration.
6. Review clemency applications. (GOA) COMPLETED: Acting upon the recommendation of Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, the Governor issued an updated clemency policy on January 24.
7. Evaluate possibility of legislation to remove barriers for former inmates to reenter the job force, including the possibility of expungement of criminal records after period of good behavior. (LAW) IN PROGRESS: Expungement is under consideration by ACJC now; anticipate potential legislative proposal for 2019 legislative session.
8. Continue efforts to establish a safety net for children coming out of foster care to reduce the risk that they might end up in the criminal justice system. (DHSS, ACJC) ONGOING: OCS provides case management, housing, and educational support to youth aging out of the foster system on an ongoing basis. The “Making a Home” program provides rental assistance to youth aging out of the foster system through a partnership with DHSS and Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. For more information visit the OCS Independent Living Program website. OCS will also continue to work with media outlets to update the public about efforts to provide safety net options for youth aging out of the system.

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