In 2007, the Alaska Legislature funded the Alaska Judicial Council to coordinate and staff a Criminal Justice Working Group (CJWG). Chief Justice Dana Fabe met with commissioners and others during the organizational stages to encourage participation. Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell and Justice Walter Carpeneti chair the group, which adopted as its mission statement the Alaska Constitution's language about the administration of justice:
[Article 1, Section 2]
Criminal administration shall be based upon the following: the need for protecting the public, community condemnation of the offender, the rights of victims of crimes, restitution from the offender, and the principle of reformation.
Each of the executive branch agencies-Departments of Law, Corrections, Public Safety, Health and Social Services, and Education-is represented by its commissioner, and the courts by their administrative director and deputy directors for the state. The Judicial Council's executive director is a member, along with the Anchorage police chief, and the heads of the Public Defender Agency, the Office of Public Advocacy, the Division of Juvenile Justice, the Division of Behavioral Health, and the Mental Health Trust Authority. Historically, collaborative criminal justice groups have been active in Alaska since the mid-1970s, with the Judicial Council staffing many of them.
Following its first meeting in December 2007, the CJWG identified two main aspects of the criminal justice process as their focus: prevention of crime and reducing recidivism, and efficiencies in the system. Committees were formed to target these issues. The CJWG serves as a forum to discuss inter-agency legislative and budgetary issues, and immediate problems such as courthouse security, accessibility of incarcerated offenders to their attorneys, and changes of venue for offenders violating their probation conditions that need collaborative solutions. The Judicial Council organizes the CJWG's meetings, provides analysis and resource materials, and coordinates other activities.
As a starting point, the Prevention and Recidivism Committee requested data to establish a baseline for arrest rates and for recidivism, for both adult and juvenile cases. Using data provided by the Departments of Corrections and Public Safety, the Judicial Council created an inter-agency database that can be updated. The Division of Juvenile Justice provided data about re-referrals, and about adjudicated cases that allowed the CJWG to look at information about juveniles in ways comparable to adult defendant data. Both of these data efforts were the first of their kind in Alaska, and were made possible by the close working relationships fostered by the CJWG. The Judicial Council worked with the court system to summarize other data about case disposition times in criminal cases, and with the Department of Corrections and the court to compile data about the timeliness and use of presentence reports statewide.
Much of the Prevention and Recidivism Committee's work in 2009 has focused on identifying evidence-based programs in the system that effectively reduce recidivism or prevent crime. Using a model developed by the Washington State Institute of Public Policy (Associate Director Steve Aos and others) and the programs identified in Alaska, the UAA Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) reported to the legislature that by spending $4 million annually on expanding intervention and prevention programs, the State of Alaska might save $321 million between 2010 and 2030 by incarcerating fewer people and by delaying prison construction costs (The Cost of Crime, ISER, January 2009). The committee is now considering the next steps to take to accomplish its goals. It is also considering other offender issues, including:
- more effective ways to work with chronic offenders and with Title 47 (brief involuntary commitments for drunkenness) alcohol abusers,
- pre-trial issues,
- re-entry resources, and
- other prevention programs such as school resource officers.
During the past year, the Efficiencies Committee worked on projects that could help reduce delays throughout the system in case management. The committee reviewed reports on electronic exchange of discovery, criminal case disposition times, timeliness and use of presentence reports, grand jury transcripts, and the Anchorage felony case management project. Its current work includes:
- design and testing of a shorter presentence report form,
- revision of court rules related to presentence reports, and
- development of the technical requirements for a web-based system to allow electronic exchange of discovery.
The Criminal Justice Working Group includes among its accomplishments improvement of access to attorneys for incarcerated defendants, resolution of courthouse security issues, new methods of handling a variety of court procedures that involve several agencies, and increased interagency communication. As agencies continue to interact regularly, they build on these achievements to respond to short and long-term challenges that benefit from cooperative efforts to resolve problems.
Teri Carns is with the Alaska Judicial Council in Anchorage, with responsibility for research projects, report writing, and aspects of judicial selection and retention.