Criminal Justice Working Group Update

Criminal Justice Working Group Update

Teresa White Carns

"Criminal Justice Working Group Update" by Teresa White Carns. Alaska Justice Forum 26(4): 5 (Winter 2010). Coordinated and staffed by the Alaska Judicial Council, the Criminal Justice Working Group (CJWG) is made up of representatives from the executive branch justice agencies and other justice system agencies and organizations in Alaska. The CWCG has focused on two main aspects of the criminal justice system: crime prevention and reduction of recidivism; and efficiencies in the system. This article outlines the CJWG's recent work and accomplishments: electronic exchange of discovery information among agencies; offender re-entry programs; Project HOPE, a successful probation monitoring program developed in Hawaii; and ongoing analysis of recidivism and program effectiveness.

The Criminal Justice Working Group (CJWG), coordinated and staffed by the Alaska Judicial Council, has focused recently on four main issues: (1) electronic exchange of discovery information among agencies, (2) offender re-entry programs, (3) Project HOPE (see sidebar), and (4) ongoing analysis of recidivism and program effectiveness. Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti and Attorney General Dan Sullivan are the co-chairs. Lt. Governor Sean Parnell, former co-chair, was sworn in as governor when former Governor Sarah Palin resigned and asked that Attorney General Dan Sullivan take his place as co-chair of the group.

The CJWG's Efficiencies Committee addressed the need for briefer presentence reports, and started a pilot project with a "short form" presentence report in the Kenai court. However, the committee directed most of its efforts during the last half of 2009 toward exploring the electronic exchange of discovery materials among law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. Parts of such a system are already in place in Fairbanks and Juneau and for the Anchorage municipal prosecutor's office. During the next six months, the committee will review systems provided by vendors, and will consider the standards for creating, storing, and retrieving digital evidence, as well as exchanging it in criminal cases.

During the next six months, the CJWG's Prevention and Recidivism Committee will concentrate on:

Re-entry: Sixty-six percent of adult sentenced Alaska offenders are rearrested within three years after their release. To help reduce that percentage, the CJWG created the Alaska Prisoner Re-entry Task Force as a subcommittee of the Prevention and Recidivism Committee. The Task Force includes representatives of housing and labor programs, along with community members, victim representatives, and others who are not members of the CJWG. A senior staff person from the Department of Corrections was designated as head of the Task Force, and the CJWG will provide help in coordinating meetings, drafting a five-year strategic plan, and locating technical assistance resources.

Probation monitoring with the Project HOPE model: Anchorage probation officers file nearly one hundred petitions to revoke probation each month just for technical violations. Project HOPE in Hawaii is an evidence-based program that reduced revocation rates for offenders in the program to 5 percent, compared to 15 percent for a control group, and re-arrests to 21 percent, compared to 47 percent for the control group. The Department of Corrections, collaborating with CJWG members, is moving forward to develop a pilot program in Anchorage based on this model. Initial contacts with all of the participating agencies have been made, and they are working to locate the resources needed to begin.

Ongoing recidivism study: Alaska has not had an ongoing process for monitoring recidivism of adult sentenced offenders or the effectiveness of programs designed to reduce recidivism. The CJWG members are cooperating in building a database and method of tracking released offenders in coming years. The database will look at recidivism of all released offenders, and of offenders participating in evidence-based programs, including institutional education and substance abuse treatment, reentry for offenders with mental health issues, therapeutic courts, and juvenile programs. Executive branch agencies and the courts will provide data; the Judicial Council and the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage will create the database and conduct the analyses.

Teri Carns is with the Alaska Judicial Council in Anchorage, with responsibility for research projects, report writing, and aspects of judicial selection and retention.