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Joint Judiciary Meeting to Focus on Sentencing Reform

Meeting to take place at Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla on Thursday, July 25th

ANCHORAGE-The Joint Judiciary Committee is hosting a meeting this week in Wasilla with a focus on sentencing reform using ideas from a national movement spreading around the nation which uses a smarter approach to justice.  This unique bi-partisan effort includes support from both Republicans and Democrats who see the need to cut down on prison costs while still keeping Alaska’s communities safe.    

Senate Bill 64 will be discussed at the meeting and has several key components based on proven methods with two primary objectives: to cut state spending on corrections and ensure public safety.   The basic idea is to save money by reducing the low-risk prison population by investing in community programs which are much less expensive than building new prisons.

“Alaska is at a crossroads right now.  If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, the new $250 million prison we just built will be filled to capacity within just a few short years,” said Senate Judiciary Chair John Coghill, R-North Pole.  “As lawmakers, we have an opportunity to follow the best practices in the country on corrections reform.  We can confront Alaska’s rising prison costs with an emphasis on public safety.”

As part of the Judiciary Committee’s effort to seek new solutions, several distinguished leaders are slated to testify at the meeting including former Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti, the Criminal Justice Working Group, Department of Corrections representatives, the Re-Entry Task Force, and former Texas Representative Jerry Madden, a “tough-on-crime Republican” whose prison cost control strategy saved Texas $500 million.   Representative Madden’s strategy for justice reinvestment grew from the idea that without education, job skills and other basic skills, offenders are likely to repeat the same steps that brought them to jail in the first place.

“Reducing recidivism should be a central focus of efforts to reform criminal justice,” said Senator Coghill.  “Proven ways of breaking the cycle of crime and giving lawbreakers a chance to become law-abiding citizens is a priority, because it advances public safety, the rule of law, and minimizes the number of future victims.”

According to a 2011 study by the Alaska Judicial Council, two-thirds of Alaska inmates will return to prison within three years of their release.   During that same time, 44-percent will be jailed for a new crime, the highest rate in the nation, according to data from a 2011 Pew Center for the States report.   Based on current projections, without a new approach, the Legislature will face funding another $250 million prison in two to three years.

House Judiciary Chair Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, commented, “SB 64 reflects a growing consensus that many low-risk, nonviolent offenders can be effectively supervised in the community at lower cost, ensuring prison beds are available for more dangerous offenders. Building another prison does not translate into better public safety. “

WHO: Joint Senate and House Judiciary Committee with Several Distinguished Guest Speakers

WHAT: Criminal Justice Meeting regarding Senate Bill 64

WHERE: Menard Sports Complex, 1001 South Mack Drive, Wasilla

WHEN:  Thursday, July 25th, 10am to 4pm

To see an agenda for the meeting, click here.

If you can’t make it in person, you can watch the hearing live on alaskalegislature.tv.

For more information, please contact Karen Lidster in Senator Coghill’s office at 907-451-2157.

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