group signing legislation in alaska

On July 11th, 2016, Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed SB 91 into law. The new law is projected to reduce the state’s prison population by 13 percent over the next ten years, saving the state an estimated $380 million.

In early 2015, the Legislature and Governor directed the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission to develop data-driven and research-based policy recommendations that would reduce the prison population and improve public safety.

Working with experts from the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime and Justice Institute at CRJ (CJI), the Commission analyzed the drivers of the prison population, studied the research about what works to address criminal behavior and consulted with criminal justice stakeholders. The Commission found that Alaska’s prison population grew 27 percent in the past ten years, and the state was projected to add an additional 1,416 inmates by 2024, forcing the state to expand prison bed capacity in just two years. Added to the prison growth, Alaska is seeing a poor return on its public safety investment with nearly two-thirds of inmates released from prison returning to prison within three years.

In December of 2015, the Commission issued 21 recommendations to reduce recidivism and corrections spending in Alaska. After months of hearings, testimony and amendments, the legislature overwhelmingly passed SB91 and sent it to the Governor’s desk in May.

The new law includes:

  • the establishment of a risk-based pretrial decision making process and a pretrial services program at the Department of Correction
  • the creation of an administrative parole option for first-time non-violent, low level offenders and the expansion of eligibility for discretionary parole
  • the creation of graduated sanctions and incentives, including caps on the use of prison for technical violations, to guide supervision officers in their response to probation and parole violations, and
  • the reduction of the majority of drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

Alaska’s Historical and Projected Prison Population

A full list of the provisions of the new law can be found here.

Alaska is now beginning a multi-year process to implement the provisions of the new law and will receive technical assistance in that process from CJI, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, for the next three years.

In the news: