Historic Bi-Partisan Corrections Reform Omnibus Passes
JUNEAU - Today, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 64, a sweeping criminal justice and corrections reform omnibus bill. SB 64 has several key components with three primary objectives: to improve public safety, hold offenders more accountable, and reduce corrections spending.
The effort, led by a bipartisan group of Senators, and introduced as a Senate Judiciary Committee bill championed by the Chair Senator John Coghill, aimed to avoid building another $250 million dollar prison in just two years. This rare bipartisan effort includes provisions added and supported by Republicans and Democrats to address the long-term costs associated with incarcerating non-violent, low level offenders, most of who struggle with substance abuse and mental health issues.
“As Chair of the Senate Finance Subcommittee for Corrections for four years, I had a front-row seat to this looming crisis. It’s a simple and undeniable equation: our brand new prison is almost full, and two-thirds of inmates are back in custody within three years of their release,” said Senator Johnny Ellis. “We’re spending outrageous sums to incarcerate Alaskans with substance abuse and mental health issues who are released back into our communities without treatment options or housing, without job skills or employment opportunities, and often away from their families and support networks.”
Senate Bill 64 had over twenty extensive and in-depth public hearings, and has been thoroughly vetted by the Departments of Law, Corrections and the Court System. This legislation will implement highly successful models from tough-on-crime states to use community supervision at much less expense in order to save very expensive prison beds for violent offenders. Among other provisions, the legislation includes combat-related PTSD as a mitigating factor for veterans, twice-a-day alcohol monitoring for certain offenders on probation and parole, establishes the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, creates a program to apply swift and certain sanctions for probation and parole violations, creates a recidivism reduction program to fund re-entry services, raises the felony theft threshold, allows for certain offenders to receive credit for time served in a residential treatment facility, and expanded risk assessments for inmates.
“This is long overdue and the culmination of years of hard work by Alaskans across the state. I believe this is one of the most important pieces of legislation to pass during my time in the legislature, and I applaud Senator Coghill for his leadership and willingness to work across the aisle. SB 64 is a smarter and safer approach that will save the state money and give Alaskans a shot at hope and redemption,” Senator Ellis said. “When Democrats and Republicans work together and put partisanship aside, Alaskans win. Legislators should do it more often!”