Problem: In 1997, despite having a lower incarceration rate than the average state, Alaska was still seeing an increase in the amount of prisoners going through the system. Over the last 10 years spending on corrections increased by almost 87%. By 2007, Alaska had five times the prison population that they had had in 1981, and spending had doubled. A significant factor in the increases was the incredibly high recidivism rate. Almost half of previous offenders go on to commit another crime. This places Alaska as the state with the worst recidivism rate across the nation.
Solution: In 2014, Governor Parnell signed Senate Bill 64 into law which aimed for increasing the treatment and rehabilitation of non-violent offenders. SB64, also established a Criminal Justice Commission, helping facilitate these non-violent offenders who went through rehabilitation back into the state. In July of 2016, Senate Bill 91 passed with large bipartisan majorities in both chambers and was signed into law Governor Bill Walker. SB 91 prioritizes prison space for violent offenders while limiting incarceration of non-violent offenders. It will also expand discretionary parole capacity and strengthen probation and parole supervision. The bill also states Alaska will reinvest almost $100 million into critical needs, which includes pretrial supervision, substance abuse programs, reentry support, and violence prevention programming and victim services.
Results: Over ten years as public safety improves, these reforms are expected to reduce the prison population by 13%, and save taxpayers as much as $379 million by year 2024. As good of steps as Alaska has taken, there is still more that needs to be done. Specific reforms that state leaders are asking the state to start on is reducing the felony sentences, drug possession offenses as misdemeanors. If these are implemented, Alaska can expect an extreme decrease in recidivism, and amount of taxpayer dollars spent on the criminal justice system.
Letter to Senator Coghill from Pat Nolan