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The conservative approach to criminal justice:
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Misrepresentations about Alaska’s SB 91

| August 8, 2018

This article by Marc Levin originally appeared in Juneau Empire August 6, 2018.

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

That old adage has been quoted by everyone from war generals to philosophy teachers across the world since the early 1900s. The reason being that, especially in public policy, it is crucial to reflect on what has worked and what has not to ensure society continuously moves forward rather than remaining stagnant, or worse, stumbling into a sea of consequences.

In my latest article published by the Anchorage Daily News, I shared what the evidence says on the criminal justice policies included in Alaska’s SB 91. My words were then misrepresented the following week by the American Bail Coalition.

Right on Crime advocates for risk assessments as a supplement to judicial discretion — not as a replacement — to help determine whether a defendant presents a high risk of being re-arrested or fleeing. Even when defendants are assessed as low-risk, the judge should still be able to overcome the presumption of release, and this was corrected by Alaska lawmakers through SB 54. I applaud these efforts as jails were previously detaining low-risk defendants unnecessarily and at a high cost to taxpayers, largely due to the fact they could not afford cash bail.

When it comes to pretrial release, Americans are presumed innocent until proven guilty and the bottom line is that Alaska’s policy now ensures that release decisions are based on public safety, not ability to pay. It is a judge, not an algorithm, who makes the ultimate decision.

The research is clear: paying money to a bail bondsman does not reduce risk of re-arrest. However, for some defendants pretrial supervision involving conditions such as supervision and treatment can do so, which is at the heart of SB 91.

Despite assertions, I never suggested that the pretrial portions of SB 91 were based on Texas’ reforms. I said sentencing changes and reinvestment opportunities were similar to Texas’ reforms.

Despite being an out-of-towner, there is a reason Alaska and dozens of other states have drawn inspiration from Texas’ experience. After years of simply building more prisons without seeing a commensurate return in improved public safety, in 2007 Texas legislators chose criminal justice reform rather than repeating history. That is how the state saved an estimated $3 billion and closed eight prisons.

While Alaska is different from Texas and its reforms were designed to fit the state’s needs, I believe we can all learn from each other to build a safer country. Doing so though requires that we act in the public interest, rather than insisting that government be required to prop up any particular industry.

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MARC A. LEVIN  is Vice President of Criminal Justice Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Based in Austin, Texas, Levin is an attorney and an accomplished author on legal and public policy issues. Levin served as a law clerk to Judge Will Garwood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Staff Attorney at the Texas Supreme Court. In 1999, he graduated with honors from the University of Texas with a B.A. in Plan II Honors and Government. In 2002, Levin received his J.D. with honors from the University of Texas School of Law. Levin’s articles on law and public policy have been featured in national and international media outlets that regularly turn to him for conservative analysis of states’ criminal justice challenges.

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