Native Employment in the Alaska Justice System

Native Employment in the Alaska Justice System

Antonia Moras

"Native Employment in the Alaska Justice System" by Antonia Moras. Alaska Justice Forum 15(2): 1, 5-8 (Summer 1998). An examination of the number of Alaska Natives and American Indians employed by Alaska justice system agencies, both state and federal, revealed that the number of Alaska Natives employed in 1998 was still low and tended to be concentrated in lower level, non-policy-making positions. The article also contains information on recruitment approaches, and testing and hiring practices.

Figures obtained by the Justice Center from Alaska state justice agencies, urban police departments and several federal agencies in Alaska reveal that the employment of Alaska Natives and American Indians in positions related to the justice system is still relatively low. In particular, few Natives hold senior administrative or professional positions. In general, the lack of Native employees appears related to the absence of sufficient numbers of qualified applicants for professional positions within the justice system.

The figures presented in Table 1 were collected from the individual agencies during summer 1998. In some cases the number cited for total employees also includes unfilled positions. The numbers present employment levels only in the main state justice agencies, the three major urban police departments and two federal agencies. They do not reflect justice-related employment in other state or federal agencies.

Table 1. Alaska Native and American Indian Employment in Alaska Justice System Agencies, Summer 1998

It is important to note that a certain haziness surrounds all reporting on race or ethnicity and employment. Applicants or employees in state and federal positions may identify themselves as members of one or another minority group but they are under no obligation to do so. The portion of the state employment application form which permits self-identifying is separate from the overall application and clearly states that the applicant is not obligated to provide information on race or ethnicity. The information that is obtained from such forms, however, becomes the basis for reports to state and federal Offices of Equal Employment Opportunity and for decisions on recruitment efforts and other personnel matters.

What these 1998 figures show is that Alaska Native and American Indian employment within the state justice system, the major urban police departments and the main federal justice branches in Alaska is much lower at all levels than the percentage of Natives and Indians in the general population. Alaska Native and American Indians are 16 per cent of the total state population. In no agency does Native and Indian employment approach this level.

Further, the situation has changed only a little over the last decade. Precise figures from ten years ago are almost impossible to obtain, but very general comparisons can be made using information presented in a document prepared by the Alaska Office of Equal Opportunity in March 1989. This report, which is titled "Status of Alaska Native Employment in State Government," presents percentages for Native employment in selected agencies in 1988. In addition, figures on Alaska Natives employed by the court system can be drawn from the 1988 annual report.

1998 percentages derived from the figures in Table 1 reveal the following levels:

A comparison of the figures reveals that in most agencies the Native justice employment situation has changed somewhat, but not dramatically, over the last ten years. One exception seems to be the Department of Public Safety. Native employment within the department as a whole—not just the Division of Alaska State Troopers—has grown by 70 per cent, according to these percentages.

The figures presented in Table 1 show a particular lack of Alaska Natives and American Indians employed in those jobs which are central to the particular mission of the individual agency (whether those positions are classified as professional or not), such as probation officers with the Department of Corrections (the number of correctional officers is noticeably higher); guardians ad litem with the Office of Public Advocacy; attorneys with the Department of Law or the Office of the Public Defender; or sworn officers with the police agencies.

The Division of Family and Youth Services differs slightly in this regard: more Natives are employed as social workers, social services associates and youth counselors than are in administrative or support positions.

There are some other important exceptions also: the current head of Alaska State Troopers is Native, as is the superintendent at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center.


Data from the Alaska Office of Equal Employment Opportunity provide another view of Native employment in state justice agencies. In preparing the 1998 Affirmative Action Plan for the state executive branch, EEO arranged for a utilization analysis focused on the employment of women and minorities. The study was conducted by Charles Mann Associates.

Over 100 job classifications across all executive branch agencies were examined to determine if designated groups were numerically underutilized in particular categories. The evaluation took into account the population of a given minority group, the availability of those with requisite skills within a geographic area reasonable for recruitment, the existence of training possibilities and the availability of promotable or transferrable employees. Results were presented for each job category for each minority group.

The study lists the following job classes as those in which Alaska Natives are underutilized (these job classifications span all executive branch agencies, with some obviously not relevant to the justice system): inspectors/compliance officers; administrative specialists; senior computer specialists; agricultural/fish scientists; health specialists; planners; probation officers; firefighters/rescue specialists; park rangers; senior correctional officers; office machine specialists; stock inventory clerks; construction trade workers; food service workers; nursing aides; custodians; maintenance workers; equipment operators and deckhands.

The study considers American Indians as a separate group and lists this group as underutilized as: senior administrators and public officials; administrators and public officials; protective services administrators; health services managers; employment services specialists; statisticians; probation officers; senior social service workers/counselors; social workers/counselors; health technicians; law enforcement supervisors; firefighters/rescue specialists; law enforcement officers; records clerks/processors; secretaries; general clerical I, II, and III; stock/inventory clerks; construction trade workers; stewards/pursers; cooks; nursing aides; custodians; maintenance workers; and equipment operators.

The study did not find either Alaska Natives or American Indians underutilized in several categories which are primarily associated with justice agencies: criminalists; senior attorneys; attorneys; correctional officers. In addition, it did not find that Alaska Natives were underutilized in the categories of law enforcement supervisors or law enforcement officers.

At first, this analysis seems to contradict the low numbers reported by the agencies. However, these EEO findings do not mean that Alaska Natives or American Indians are employed in those categories in which they have not been cited as underutilized, but rather that—given the size of the subgroup, the requirements of the particular job classification and the availability of individuals qualified for the job category—the group is not under represented from a statistical perspective. Certain positions require certain degrees or particular kinds of experience; others can be filled only from within the agency. What the analysis suggests is that the absence of Natives in various job classes is due not to qualified individuals being rejected for initial hire or passed over for promotion but rather to a lack of individuals with the education or experience required by the established job classification.

The underutilization analysis is important in any consideration of Native employment within the justice system not just because of the findings themselves but also because it is available to be used as an element in recruitment and promotion decisions. The Office of Equal Employment Opportunity updates the analysis quarterly and disseminates it to the individual agencies.

Recruitment and Hiring

Recruitment processes come to the foreground in any look at the Native justice employment picture. The state hiring process is lengthy and bureaucratic. It is referenced to established job classes for which precise qualifications have been established. A central registry spanning most job classes is maintained by the Division of Personnel within the Department of Administration. To be put on this registry individuals must complete an initial written application which specifies the job classification in which they are interested. The application is then evaluated in light of the established job class requirements for education and experience and an applicant accepted or rejected for the registry. The names of those on the registry are then sent to individual agencies when openings occur and the agency continues the selection process through interviews. The interview process is also closely regulated. For certain positions, with certain agencies, the hiring process is handled more directly by the particular agency, bypassing the registry. In general, this is the case for professional (and non-union) positions.

The Alaska Court System handles its own hiring for administrative and support positions. The initial application, however, is similar to that required for other state positions. The federal hiring process is equally complex.

The initial state application is crucial to success in the hiring process, and it requires knowledge of job requirements and the ability to present experience and educational background in ways that match the requirements of particular job classifications.

Many of these positions require degrees, although for some classes certain kinds of experience can be substituted for the formal education requirement and, conversely, for some job classes certain types of academic credit will substitute for agency experience, permitting candidates to enter at higher levels.

As previously mentioned, DFYS employs more Natives in positions directly related to the mission of the agency (rather than in administrative support positions). A review of the requirements for particular job classes shows that the division requires less formal education for entry level positions as youth counselors or social services associates. For example, a Social Services Associate I does not require a specific educational level but rather a knowledge of community needs, problems and resources and literacy in English. (In some cases knowledge of the indigenous language in place of employment is also required.) A certain amount of experience at this job level then permits movement into higher levels, including those of Social Worker—which is classified as professional—with job experience substituting for formal education. This structuring of job classes creates larger pools of individuals eligible to move upward into progressively more responsible positions through experience. Entry level positions at most of the other agencies do not offer this kind of flexibility.

None of the state agencies has separate funds budgeted for minority recruitment nor positions specifically designated to handle minority recruitment. However, all the state executive branch justice agencies are covered by the Alaska Affirmative Action plan, and the Alaska Court System prepares its own plan.

Human resources administrators in the separate state departments report varied approaches to recruitment. DFYS, which has new positions allocated by the legislature, is currently involved in an intense recruitment effort, specifically involving rural areas, with recruitment trips to Fairbanks and Bethel scheduled.

The court system, which is now updating its affirmative action plan, utilizes extensive mailing lists, including fax and E-mail, to reach the Native community. The court system is also encouraging Native village participation in the magistrate hiring process.

Law Enforcement

Because the number of Alaska Natives and American Indians employed as sworn officers in law enforcement agencies is particularly low and because the hiring process for police officers is quite different than that for positions with other justice agencies, it is worth looking at police recruitment processes separately. Despite the low numbers all four major police agencies report intense recruitment of minorities, including Alaska Natives. (It should be noted that the Alaska State Troopers report that there are eight Alaska Native candidates in the new officer class currently forming.)

The Department of Public Safety describes a strong effort in Native recruitment both for the Alaska State Troopers and for its other branches. A trooper at each post is designated as part of the recruitment unit. The effort has also included television and newspaper ads, extensive mailings, and personal visits and presentations. At least $60,000 is spent on these efforts during each recruitment period. The troopers also recruit among the Village Public Safety Officers, whose work they supervise but who are not employees of DPS. Only a few VPSOs, however, have become troopers.

Like the hiring process in other state agencies, the process of hiring for sworn positions in the main police agencies is lengthy and complex. Although the sequence of steps in the process varies somewhat from agency to agency, the Alaska State Troopers and the police departments of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau follow similar procedures. All the police agencies require applicants to pass a written test and a physical agility test and to complete an extensive personal history questionnaire, which has been designed by the Police Standards Council. This questionnaire requires the applicant to provide information on former jobs, financial affairs, driving record and criminal offenses. It is designed to elicit any background information which might disqualify the candidate under the established professional standards.

The standards prohibit the employment as an officer of anyone who has been convicted of a felony or any individual who has been convicted during the previous ten years of a misdemeanor crime of dishonesty or moral turpitude or one which resulted in serious physical injury to another person. An individual with two or more DWI convictions is also disqualified. The standards also prohibit departments from hiring those who have used a controlled substance other than marijuana during the previous ten years or who have used marijuana within one year before the date of hire unless the individual was under 21 at the time of the use of the substance. (Similar standards apply to correctional officers and adult probation officers.)

Each agency also requires a medical examination and conducts a personal interview with candidates who have reached a certain point in the process. The format of the interview varies among the agencies. With the Alaska State Troopers the candidate meets with an oral board. At APD the interviews are conducted one on one.

Each agency completes its own background check of a candidate, its officers speaking with family, employers, relatives, friends and neighbors. A candidate who passes the background check then goes on to take the agency psychological test and the polygraph. A list of candidates who have passed to this point is then presented to the head of the particular agency for the final hiring decisions.

In general, Alaska law enforcement agencies do not maintain detailed data on candidates who drop out of the recruitment process or are disqualified. However, general figures provided by APD on its recruitment process reveal the main points of selectivity. (APD's recruitment process is notably more complex than those of the other agencies. The department also receives the most applications—approximately 6000 in 1997, compared to 300-400 annually with the Juneau department.) Approximately 50 to 60 per cent of those who complete the initial one-page application do not appear for the scheduled testing. In particular, members of minority of groups stop at this point. The test contains three components, each of which must be passed separately. Approximately 35 per cent fail the first section , a reading and vocabulary examination which requires skills at the thirteenth grade level. Another 35 per cent fail the second component—a video test which entails watching a series of scenarios dramatizing police work situations and selecting an appropriate response to the problem presented in each scenario. A further 10 per cent fail the final component—an observation and writing test which evaluates the ability to report facts. Only slightly more than one quarter of those remaining pass the personal history questionnaire and oral interview stages. The background check results in a loss of approximately one-half of the remaining candidates, and beyond that 50 per cent again are dropped through the psychological testing. While these figures are from only one agency and vary somewhat over different recruitment periods, they give some indication of the extreme selectivity of the process. (In addition, some newly hired officers do not complete the academy and others resign during the formative field training stage.)

Legal Positions

Not only are the overall levels of Alaska Native and American Indian employment low but there is an almost total lack of Natives in senior administrative positions which require a law degree. The Department of Law currently employs one Native attorney. Neither the Office of Public Advocacy nor the Alaska Office of the Public Defender has Native attorneys on staff, nor do the U.S. Attorney's office or the U.S. District Court, including the Office of the Federal Public Defender. (In addition, Alaska Legal Services has no Native attorneys among its paid personnel.) Within the judicial branch, eight magistrate positions are held by Natives but no judgeships and there are no Native administrators within the court system above Range 14.

There are still relatively few Alaska Native and American Indian attorneys; hence, the pool of qualified applicants for these positions in state agencies is shallow.

While the Alaska Bar Association does not maintain precise figures on the race or ethnicity of its members, an unofficial count reveals that there are twenty to thirty Alaska Native attorneys who are active members of the Alaska Bar and reside in the state. There are several inactive Alaska Native members, a number who practice in other states and perhaps fifteen to twenty others who hold law degrees but have not yet been admitted to the bar. Despite their inexactitude these figures reveal the relative scarcity of individuals qualified for certain justice positions.

An Incomplete Picture

That the employment of Alaska Natives and American Indians in justice system positions continues to be low is clear. The employment figures from individual agencies, the EEO statistical analysis and the examination of state hiring practices combine to highlight the issue of qualifications—whether those of education, professional experience, or particular agency experience. Certain positions require certain types of degrees, others can be filled only from within the individual agency. The length and bureaucratic nature of the hiring process for many positions, particularly in the initial stages, may work against attracting Native applicants, but this needs to be looked at in more depth. Other aspects of the picture might also be examined; undoubtedly cultural and language differences, the geography of the state and the nature of justice system jobs themselves all interact in ways that keep employment levels low.

Antonia Moras is the editor of the Alaska Justice Forum.