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New reforms to the criminal justice system to impact prison sentences and the state budget

Hoping to stem the increase in the Alaskan prison population of both first-time and repeat offenders, Governor Walker signed Senate Bill 91 into law on July 11, 2016. Sens. John Coghill and Johnny Ellis co-wrote the bill, motivated by concerns of the dramatic rise in the prison population and mounting housing costs.

Studies commissioned by the Alaska Criminal Commission reveal the state's prison population grew almost three times faster than the population of residential Alaskans. When coupled with the escalating price tag to feed and shelter Alaskan prisoners, the old policies for sentencing, imprisonment and probation were judged as inadequate.

According to Sen. Coghill, the passing of SB 91 was "an enormous achievement that will reduce the rate of recidivism, hold offenders accountable and get the most public safety out of each dollar spent." In order to accomplish these goals, the crime reform law will work in these three ways:

1. Reduce the rate of recidivism

The law will address this goal in two ways: improving opportunities for prisoners after they are released and strengthening parole supervision. Using this "carrot and stick" motivation approach, the statute creates incentives for parolees to obey the conditions of their release and allows for rapid punishment when those conditions are not met. It is hoped that the development of a reentry program will increase job options to limit the temptation for the parolee to engage in criminal activity in order pay for living expenses.

2. Hold offenders accountable

In order to lower the prison population, the law alters sentencing requirements for certain types of crimes, increases the number of prisoners eligible for parole and simplifies parole release for first-time offenders. As a result of enacting these changes, lawmakers hope to limit the prison population to those convicted of serious or violent offenses.

3. Employ cost-effective measures

Reinvesting some of the money saved through the reforms will allow for the implementation of cost-effective practices, such as violence prevention and drug treatment programs. Funds will also accrue in limiting the number of those detained before trial proceeding.

For Alaskans familiar with the budget woes facing the state, laws that can enhance public safety and lower financial obligations provide a much-needed solution.

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