Alaska Justice Forum 25(4), Winter 2009

The Winter 2009 issue of the Alaska Justice Forum features articles on capital punishment in the U.S. and internationally, as well as a brief history of the death penalty in Alaska; violent deaths in Alaska and nationwide; an exploration of the relationship fear of crime and collective efficacy, social ties, and community disorder in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; and findings of the Alaska Judicial Council's 2008 report on judicial selection and retention from 1984 to 2007.

"Capital Punishment 2007 and 2008"

This article assembles Bureau of Justice Statistics figures on capital punishment in the United States. In 2007, 10 states executed 42 prisoners, 3,2000 peope were under sentence of death in state and federal prisons, and all but 14 states retained the death penalty in their laws. In 2008, 37 people were executed.

"Violent Deaths in Alaska and Nationwide"

An estimated 50,000 people die annually in the United States as a result of violence - including suicide, homicide, injury deaths of undermined intent, unintentional firearms deaths, and legal intervention (such as police shootings). In Alaska, despite a relatively small population, about 250 people annually are victims of violent deaths. The National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), of which the Alaska Violent Death Reporting System (AK VDRS) under the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is a part, works to capture and analyze detailed data about violent deaths with the goal of identifying populations at risk and designing and improving intervention and prevention efforts at all levels. This article describes the NVDRS and AK VDRS and reports findings from two significant surveys on violent deaths: the Alaska Violent Death Reporting System 2003-2005 Summary Report, the first annual publication of AK VDRS, and Deaths from Violence: A Look at 17 States, a survey of 2004-2005 data from NVRDS.

"Collective Efficacy and Fear of Crime in the Mat-Su Borough" by Sharon Chamard

Based on 1,068 surveys returned in the 2008 annual community survey of Matanuska-Susitna Borough residents, this article explores the relationship between fear of crime and three possible explantory factors: collective efficacy, which refers to the community's ability to control the behavior of its inhabitants adn to organize when needed to attract amenities and repel negative influences; social ties, which is a measure of how socially connected people are to others in their neighborhoods; and disorder, which measures how many indicators of both social and physical disorder are reported by survey respondents. The relationship between these three factors as found in the Mat-Su survey is consistent with other findings in the scholarly literature, and indicates that increasing perceptions of collective efficacy will lead to reductions in fear of crime.

"Selecting and Evaluating Alaska's Judges: 1984–2007" by Teresa W. Carns

Alaska selects and retains its judges using a merit selection system adopted 50 years ago at statehood (Alaska Constitution, Article IV, sections 5-8). The system, based on the "Missouri Plan" of merit selection, is administered by the Alaska Judicial Council, a citizens' commission of three non-attorneys, three attorneys, and the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court. Council staff reviews applications, public comment, and results of a survey of Alaska Bar Association members and conducts other investigation. The Council then meets, holds a public hearing, conducts applicant hearings, and votes on nominees. The state constitution requires that the governor shall fill any vacancy "by appointing one of two or more persons nominated by the judicial council." This article highlights findings of the Council's 2008 report on its merit selection and retention evaluation work, describing characteristics, legal experience, and bar survey ratings of judicial applicants, nominees, and appointees from 1984 to 2007. The article also includes discussion of the Council's role in judicial retention elections.

"An International Perspective on the Death Penalty"

More than two-thirds of the world's nations - 138 - have now abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, according to figures compiled by Amnesty International. Fifty-nine nations, including the United States, retain and use the death penalty. This article offers a brief overview of capital punishment internationally, including 2008 statistics, international treaties and protocols regarding the death penalty, and data on the imposition of the death penalty on foreign nationals in the United States.

"The Death Penalty in Alaska" by Melissa S. Green

In January 2009, House Bill 9 was introduced in the Alaska State Legislature. The bill, if passed, would authorize capital punishment in Alaska for persons convicted of certain first degree murders, and would represent the first time that Alaska as a state authorized a death penalty. This article gives a brief history of the death penalty in Alaska, including summaries of the cases of the eight men executed in under civil authority in Territorial Alaska from 1900 to 1957, when the Alaska Territorial Legislature abolished it two years before Alaska became a state. A bibliography for further reading on the death penalty in Alaska is also provided.