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 have just announced a system-wide review of their justice system aimed at targeting inefficiencies, preserving public safety, and saving taxpayers money. Alaska’s initiative comes on the heels of Kansas’ new workgroup–announced late last week–that will investigate that state’s burgeoning juvenile justice system.
Similar to other reform initiatives found across the country, the state’s newly-created Alaska Criminal Justice Commission will be developing data-driven reform recommendations–in conjunction with the Pew Charitable Trusts–through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership between Pew and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.
According to the press release highlighting the commission, Alaska, like many other states, is confronting a growing jail-prison population and rapidly increasing costs. Over the last decade, its unified jail-prison population has increased by 27 percent, almost three times faster than the state’s overall increase in population. Additionally, the state spends about a third of a billion dollars on corrections every year–up 50% since 2005. Recognizing that these increases are coming without measurable benefit to Alaskan citizens, state leaders are calling for change:
“I am confident that we can find ways to make our communities safer and cut the growing cost of our corrections system,” said Governor Bill Walker. “With the Criminal Justice Commission, we have the right people and the right process to generate reforms that will improve public safety by keeping violent and career criminals behind bars and directing resources to programs that reduce rates of re-offending.”
“The Commission members have decades of criminal justice experience, and represent a diverse range of stakeholders, including legislators, judges, attorneys, agency heads, advocates for crime victims, and Native Alaskans,” said Chief Justice Dana Fabe. “They all are committed to developing stronger corrections policies that will make our system as fair and effective as possible.”
“This is a vital step in controlling our growing inmate population,” said Attorney General Craig Richards. “We have to plan for the future and be smart about our corrections spending. While incarceration plays a critical role in locking up violent and dangerous offenders, a large and growing body of research shows that there are alternatives for lower-level offenders that work better than prison and cost a lot less.”
The full press release announcing the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission can be found here.
Photo: Texas Tribune