Sentencing Reform Work is Encouraging: Alaska Adopted System to Reduce Disparities, but It’s Costing Us Dearly

Post Date: October 9, 2013

(Fairbanks News-Miner editorial) — The recent push to revise Alaska’s criminal sentencing system is encouraging, and not just because it is a truly bipartisan effort in a political landscape that has too few such collaborations.

Legislators involved in the task have two fundamental goals that few people would argue against: 1. Save money for the state. 2. Help people who have screwed up to get back on their feet rather than pushing them down. There will be no point at which we can say “Aha, we’ve met those goals.” It’s an ongoing effort, but one that many have recognized needs to be ramped up. Prison costs are eating too much of the state’s budget. At the same time, the prisons don’t seem to be helping change behavior. Far too many people who are imprisoned for crimes go on to commit others again and again. Those two trends are entwined in a vicious cycle that no one thinks is healthy for our state.

The cycle has always existed, but one of the things that unexpectedly exacerbated it was a policy change adopted by the Alaska Legislature 35 years ago. The Legislature decided to institute presumptive sentencing to reduce the discretion given judges. That inevitably has expanded the prison population. Read more