Gov. Walker signs criminal justice reform bill into law
At midnight tonight, sweeping new changes for Alaska's justice system will go into effect. The Criminal Justice Reform bill was signed into law by Governor Bill Walker in Juneau today.
The legislation has been in the works for about two years now and won bi-partisan support in the legislature during the session. It aims to lower the state's prison population by 13 percent over the next eight years. Lawmakers say that will save the state about $380 million dollars.
Among the changes, it keeps minor offenders and those awaiting trial out of prison cells, by using ankle monitors or halfway houses. It also lowers the penalties for first and second time drug users.
As a result of the new law, the Municipality of Anchorage must rewrite its criminal code. City prosecutor Seneca Thoren says cities in Alaska are not allowed to have longer sentences than the state. She says the city has been going through its code making adjustments that will go into effect Tuesday as well.
Thoren says one adjustment will be penalties for possessing heroin. Under city law, possession is a felony, but under the new reform guidelines, it's dropped to a misdemeanor, with first and second offenders getting no jail time.
Anchorage Assemblyman Bill Evans says while he supports the reform legislation, he does have concerns. He says to keep drug offenders from being repeat offenders the state must set up and fund more treatment centers.
In a written statement issued today, Governor Walker said the state will spend more money on treatment by using half the tax money generated by the legal sale of marijuana and with savings created by the reforms.