Lawmakers listen to hours of public testimony on the State's criminal justice reform bill
“I’m really angered that SB-91 passed. It’s a wild west out there.” David Manza echoed the opinions of several other Alaskan residents at a public hearing held by the House Finance Committee Saturday.
Called in by Governor Walker for a fourth special session, lawmakers continue to debate the fate of SB 91 and weigh in on the reform bill SB 54, a bill passed by the Republican-led Senate earlier this year.
SB-91 was implemented early last year and has been targeted by those who blame the bill for an increase in crime across Alaska.
“I’m also angry,” Fairbanks resident Marna Sanford, a former public defender said.
Sanford expressed concerns over increasing misinformation regarding the bill, “no one actually saw what was happening before SB 91 to be able to compare it to the way they are now.”
Sanford, a victim of vehicle theft herself, says lawmakers need to invest in treatment and re-entry programs. “The changes that SB 54 make are smart, they address some of the problems that some people are worried about, but we cannot go back to where we were before SB 91”
According to the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, those changes have lead to a reduction in the prison population for non-violent misdemeanors but an increase in violent misdemeanor offenders.
“For these first timers, the evidence showed us that for many of these people having them serve a lengthy prison sentence actually had the result of making them do more crime instead of stopping crimes.” Greg Razo, chair of the state’s Criminal Justice Commission, said during a presentation to lawmakers Saturday.
He added that since the criminal justice reform the state has seen an increase in probation violation reports.
“That’s almost a third increase. The actual jail-time that people are doing as a result of probation violations is actually decreasing. Which is the intended result because of the swift certain sanctions, making a person go to jail for three days, four days, ten days, is an attempt to realign them so that they get an immediate consequence instead of the way it was in the old days.”
He warned lawmakers that SB 54 would increase the prison population and therefore increase the state's expenses. In his presentation, Razo mentioned how in FY17 the state avoided $3.8 million in prison growth costs, a comment he was criticized later for making by Representative Lance Pruitt.
“I don’t see anything in this presentation that really gives me any indication that it wasn’t on the dollars and cents. That it wasn’t your goal.” The Anchorage Republican said. Razo responded by stating that the overall goal of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission is to have public safety in mind.
Meanwhile, others called for a full repeal of SB 91, including Edith Grunwald, a mother of a teenager who was murdered in November 2016.
“Please make SB 54 is substantially tougher on crime, and fix some of the gaps at least until we can repeal SB-91.”