News from the Alaska State Legislature, the Office of Senator Coghill
For Immediate Release: March 25, 2015
Major Initiative Saves Money While Reducing Crime
‘Crime Bill 2.0’ reduces expensive jail time for non-violent offenders while incentivizing good behavior
JUNEAU-Today, Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, introduced Senate Bill 91, which reduces expensive prison time for non-violent offenders while incentivizing good behavior. SB91 continues a bipartisan multi-year effort to reform Alaska’s criminal justice and corrections systems and builds on the work accomplished last year through another crime omnibus bill, Senate Bill 64.
“Non-violent offenders are filling Alaska’s prison beds and costing us millions of dollars to over-supervise and over-incarcerate people who now make up a majority of the prison population,” said Senator Coghill. “Last year, almost 40-percent of all prison admissions were for drug possession, a class C felony, committed by individuals between the ages of 18-29. Putting non-violent offenders in prison with violent offenders not only costs money, it has negative impacts on public safety.”
Nearly half of Alaska’s prison population is people who are awaiting trial. SB91 creates safe electronic monitoring programs for those on pre-trial and allows credit for time served before trial, rather than continue wasting millions of dollars housing them in prison. In addition, the bill provides for “good time” while on electronic monitoring, probation and parole and allows those who are incarcerated a chance to earn “merit time” if they complete certain programs.
“These reforms are huge. They incentivize treatment and other recidivism-reducing programs, as well as good behavior,” said the bill’s first co-sponsor, Senator Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage. “Most of all, it saves the state millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent locking up non-violent offenders.”
Another large population in our jails are non-violent offenders who incur a technical violation while one probation. SB91 caps sentencing time for minor probation violations at 45 days instead whereas the current average is 74 days. Another provision in the bill creates a program within the Department of Corrections that starts 90-days before a prisoner is released to help them transition back into the community.
“These reforms incentivize treatment and good behavior,” said Senator Coghill. “The aim is to get the people who do not pose a risk to public safety out of costly prison beds and back into society with reentry accountability. It frees up hard, expensive beds while improving conduct and making communities safer.”
“As current Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I held a crime summit last month to review progress made last year with the passage of SB64 and to identify next steps,” said Senator Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage). “Our high rate of recidivism and the costly revolving door of our current system is clearly unsustainable. As a Judiciary member, and as Chair in both the House and Senate during my 13 years serving in the Legislature, I am eager to get to work on this bill and am glad to see this is an issue that transcends partisanship. All the best minds need to be at the table to get this done.”
Other provisions in the bill include sentencing discretion for judges, increasing prosecution surcharges, changing community work service so that it cannot be converted to jail time, instituting some changes for protective orders and restoring some driving privileges for felony DUI offenders so they can once again be productive members of society.
“Senator Coghill and our staff have worked over the last year to identify what fixes can and must be made now in order to put off the impending need to build a new prison,” said Senator Ellis. “I look forward to continuing my work with Senator Coghill. Our offices have joined forces – one of the most conservative and one of the most progressive legislators – to put politics aside and do what is best for Alaska’s budget and public safety.”
SB91 has been referred to the Senate State Affairs, Judiciary and Finance Committees for further consideration.
For more information, please contact Jordan Shilling in Senator Coghill’s office at (907) 465-5834 or Amory Lelake in Senator Ellis’ office at (907) 465-5038.