Since last autumn the federally-appointed Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission has been examining various aspects of rural justice services. The legislation that set up the commission requires it to make recommendations on the following:
- Creating a unified law enforcement system, court system, and system of local laws or ordinances for Alaska Native villages and communities of varying sizes, including the possibility of first, second, and third class villages with different powers;
- Meeting the law enforcement and judicial personnel needs in rural Alaska, including the possible use of cross deputization in a way that maximizes the existing resources of federal, state, local, and tribal governments;
- Addressing the needs to regulate alcoholic beverages, including the prohibition of the sale, importation, use, or possession of alcoholic beverages, and to provide restorative justice for persons who violate such laws including treatment; and
- Addressing the problem of domestic violence and child abuse, including treatment options and restorative justice. (Public Law 108-199)
The commission is working toward releasing a final report by the end of this June. Whatever the recommendations it finally makes, some of the by-products from its work have already advanced the public discussion of rural justice.
The main article in this issue of the Alaska Justice Forum is a summary of the evaluations made over the last quarter century with regard to the Village Public Safety Officer Program—which has been one of the most important focuses of the commission. The broader report from which the article is derived is probably the most thorough overview of the VPSO program yet prepared. It was researched and written by Justin Roberts for the Alaska Federation of Natives. AFN has made the study available to the Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission.
The Forum plans to publish other articles and reports related to the work of the commission as they emerge.
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As part of its public education mission, the Justice Center at UAA is compiling a bibliography of studies, reports, and other documents related to Alaska rural justice. This bibliography covers the period since the early 1990s. It builds upon an earlier work published by the Alaska Judicial Council that covers Alaska rural justice from territorial days through 1992.
The Justice Center has made this new bibliography, which is still in draft form, available to the Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission. A monograph accompanies the bibliography. The document will be released in final form later this spring.