In 1997, a task force was formed to evaluate the state of Alaska’s criminal justice system. Despite having a lower incarceration rate than the average state, Alaska was still seeing steep increases in the number of prisoners that they housed. In the last decade spending on corrections increased by 86.6 percent. Prisoners were more likely to be sentenced to prison, and when they went, they were more likely to stay longer.

In response to this concerning fiscal and overcrowding situation, the Alaska Criminal Justice Council came out with findings and recommendations in January of 2003. 1 They recommended that the state reexamine probation and pretrial strategies, strengthen its rehabilitative programming to lower recidivism, further explore the – then new – restorative justice possibilities, provide more community diversion opportunities, improve mental health practices, and importantly reexamine the dollar amounts applied to property crimes. 2

These were all intended to lower the incarceration rate and to respond to what was soon becoming a looming crisis in Alaska’s criminal justice system. Unfortunately, mere recommendations did not solve the problem. 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. 3

The state tried to address these problems head-on in 2014 with Senate Bill 64, 4 which aimed to increase treatment and rehabilitation, create more realistic felony thresholds for property offenses, as well as establishing a Criminal Justice Commission.

SB 64, signed into law by Governor Parnell, was a good first step, but Alaska still has significant reforms left to accomplish. The newly built prison in Goose Creek has already filled and will soon be overcrowded, as well. Further action will be necessary to prevent continued growth of the population and the taxes supporting it.

In July of 2016, Governor Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 91—the state’s comprehensive Justice Reinvestment package that was heavily informed by a decade’s worth of similar legislation passed in other conservative red states. Aimed at addressing the state’s stubbornly high recidivism rate and double-digit growth in its correctional population, SB 91 prioritizes prison space for serious and violent offenders by limiting incarceration of non-violent misdemeanants, expands discretionary parole capacity, and strengthens probation and parole supervision. Furthermore, it reinvests almost $100 million into critical needs, including pretrial supervision, substance abuse programs, re-entry support, and violence prevention programming and victim’s services.

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. 5

Facing facts and correcting myths about Senate Bill 91

Marc Levin | July 17, 2018
This article by Marc Levin originally appeared in Anchorage Daily News July 16th, 2018. Passing criminal justice reform is a bit like painting a house: Sometimes, another coat or…

Enhancing Pretrial Justice in Alaska

Katie Greer | January 9, 2018
Alaska courts are officially embarking on a new pretrial justice model after overcoming a case of cold feet last Fall. The new model is a product of the state’s…

Texas Experience Makes It Clear: Alaska Should Give SB 91 Time to Work

Marc Levin | October 16, 2017
This article by Marc Levin and former Texas Representative Jerry Madden originally appeared in Alaska Dispatch News, October 12th, 2017. Ten years ago, our home state of Texas was…

Alaska’s Senate Bill 91 Draws On A Decade of Conservative Criminal Justice Reforms

Michael Haugen | May 9, 2016
Facing the prospect of a projected 27% increase to its prison population in the next ten years—at an additional cost to taxpayers of $169 million—Alaskan legislators are on the…

Tony Perkins: Alaska Criminal Justice Commission Will Save Money, Help Families Stay Intact

Michael Haugen | June 23, 2015
In the Alaska Dispatch News this Father’s Day weekend, Family Research Council president and Right on Crime signatory Tony Perkins wrote a commentary calling attention to one of the…

Newly Created Alaska Criminal Justice Commission Seeks To Reign In Rising Prison Population, Corrections Costs

Michael Haugen | June 17, 2015
While criminal justice reform packages have moved frustrating slow at times at the federal level, the issue continues to be advanced apace among the states, as leaders in Alaska…

ROC success in Alaska!

Right on Crime | April 23, 2014
Alaska legislators have passed a sweeping corrections bill that will increase public safety, slow prison growth and cut costs. The bill establishes a 24/7 Sobriety Program, which requires certain…

Alaska’s Corrections System

Right on Crime | February 6, 2014
This new ROC infographic illustrates the high cost and low return of Alaska's corrections system. Read more

Alaska turns to ROC policies as model for prison reform

Right on Crime | January 18, 2014
The state of Alaska knows “It’s time to try something else” in regards to their criminal justice system and looks to ROC’s success in Texas as inspiration for reform.

Norquist, Madden: “Alaska conservatives can lead way to cost-effective criminal justice”

Right on Crime | August 7, 2013
“As leaders of a national conservative movement called Right on Crime, we believe that by applying conservative principles to criminal justice policy, states can build a more cost-effective system…
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