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 failed to pass the bill.
3. Propose legislation to allow judges to take out-of-state criminal history into account when assessing bail. COMPLETED: Governor Walker signed HB 312 on June 14, 2018, which allowed for the use of an offender’s out-of-state criminal history when setting bail. Judges now use the pretrial assessment tool to guide their decisions but retain discretion to set bail amounts and conditions as they see fit.
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 reentry programs, including an exemption from the procurement code to enable contracting with more local service providers, and to allow inmate internet access for reentry purposes. The Legislature failed to pass the bills.

·       Governor Walker introduced a prison industries bill (SB 214 and HB 402) on March 5. The Legislature failed to pass the bill. 

IN PROGRESS: DOC is updating department policies to help expand access to reentry resources and rehabilitation for those in custody, including developing transitional work opportunities with seafood processors. DOC is also working with several communities to advance local sentencing options for misdemeanors and working with DMVA to increase options for rural probationers to do check-ins with local Alaska State Defense Force mentors.
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 first, addressing pre-indictment delay, was signed in December 2017. A second creates a one- year pilot program beginning October 2018 that sets effective and realistic trial dates and pretrial deadlines. Victims will have more certainty about when a case will go to trial.
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. Applications are being processed.
7. [NEW] Establish an interagency structure to focus on improving child welfare in Alaska. [NEW] IN PROGRESS: In July of 2018, Governor Walker created the Alaska Children and Youth Cabinet. The Cabinet brings together commissioners from nine state agencies to work collaboratively to improve child welfare in Alaska and focus on addressing childhood trauma.
8. [NEW] Develop age-specific, trauma informed sexual abuse and interpersonal violence prevention and healthy relationship education.

COMPLETED: The Governor signed Bree’s Law on July 11, 2018, which creates standardized training for every school in Alaska to teach students how to recognize, prevent, and leave abusive or violent relationships.

[NEW] IN PROGRESS: The Department of Education and Early Development, with the Council for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA), DHSS, and other partners, is in the process of developing age specific, trauma informed curriculum for use in Alaska schools focusing on sexual abuse, interpersonal violence prevention, and healthy relationships.
9. [NEW] Seek legislation to strengthen sex offense laws to better combat sexual assault and domestic violence.

[NEW] Governor will introduce legislation next session to fix loopholes in current sex offense statutes:

a.      make causing unwanted contact with semen a sex offense;

b.     make Sexual Abuse of a Minor in the Third Degree a sex offense that requires higher penalties and registration as a sex offender if age difference is six years or greater;

c.      make indecent viewing involving the production of images a sex offense requiring registration;

d.     make solicitation of a minor a felony in all circumstances;

e.     make sending unsolicited sexual images a criminal offense;

clarify that sex offenders from other jurisdictions must register in Alaska in all cases.
10. [NEW] Seek legislation to strengthen tools to supervise those on probation. [NEW] Governor will introduce legislation to strengthen tools to address those probationers who abscond from Alaska or otherwise violate probation.
11. [NEW] Seek legislation to combat elder fraud and abuse.

COMPLETED: Added 7 new Public Guardians to the Office of Public Advocacy to assist incapacitated adults.

 [NEW] Governor will introduce legislation to allow Adult Protective Services to substantiate findings of elder abuse or fraud in administrative proceedings to ensure those abusing elders are not able to hold positions of trust that allow them to abuse or defraud other vulnerable adults or children.

12. Evaluate possibility of legislation to remove barriers for former inmates, who have been rehabilitated, re-entering the job force, including the possibility of expungement of criminal records after period of good behavior. (LAW) IN PROGRESS: Removing barriers to re-entering the job force: ACJC has issued a recommendation allowing redaction of criminal records for certain offenses.
13. [NEW] Seek legislation to better address school safety.

[NEW]

a.      Governor will introduce legislation and seek funding to establish a crisis chat and tip line to provide students a safe, anonymous method to inform school staff, mental health providers, and potentially law enforcement of behaviors that may result in preventable tragedies. The tip line will provide a rapid response to meet the needs of students in distress and prevent intended acts of violence.

b.     Governor will introduce legislation to create the new crime of terroristic threatening.

c.     Governor will introduce legislation to ensure court orders prohibiting those with mental diseases from possessing firearms are entered into law enforcement databases. 

14. 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:

a.       Safety net for foster children. OCS provides case management, housing, and educational support to youth aging out of the foster system on an ongoing basis. This year, 66 foster care youth earned a diploma or GED, 36 more accessed the Education and Training voucher program, and six graduated from college. For more information visit the OCS Independent Living Program website.

b.      [NEW] Vocational training program for at- risk youth: DMVA is launching a pilot 5-month in-resident vocational program for Alaska Military Youth Academy graduates for at-risk youth.

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