Diverse group of stakeholders discusses how to reduce Alaska’s recidivism rate

Published: Nov. 12, 2019 at 7:42 PM AKST
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On Tuesday, a diverse group of stakeholders met at the University of Alaska Anchorage to discuss how to reduce the state’s high recidivism rate.

The Alaska Legislature, nonprofits, private industry and government departments were all represented at the forum organized by Ryan Ray, the founder of 61Sixty, a non-governmental organization based out of Palmer.

Ray hopes to get stakeholders speaking about the state’s challenges ahead of the next legislative session.

Representatives from the Department of Corrections told the forum that 17,000 people are released from correctional facilities in Alaska every year. A recidivism rate of 63 percent means that thousands will be back inside within three years.

Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said “that means there will be more victims.” She says the state doesn’t have a comprehensive recidivism program but there are some isolated examples of success.

There are also lesser-known challenges for offenders trying to reintegrate into society. According to the Department of Corrections, 75 percent of inmates are released without a probation or parole officer.

Gary Harris, who spent time in the Alaska Correctional System, told the forum that getting a job soon after being released made a big difference for him.

“I was able to find someone right away that would take a chance on me,” he said. “It really set me on a trajectory of sustained recovery.”

Harris now works as an employee specialist for Set Free Alaska, a faith-based program in Palmer that helps inmates reintegrate.

Labor commissioner Dr. Tamika Ledbetter and Hughes spoke about the need to get more inmates into good employment opportunities before they leave prison.

A complicating factor for the state’s recidivism rate is a plan to send prisoners out of Alaska. The Department of Corrections announced in late-October that a few hundred inmates would be sent Outside after a tough-on-crime bill was signed in July.

Lawmakers from across the aisle have expressed concern that this policy could reduce the success of how inmates reintegrate after they're released.

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