Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force Update

Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force Update

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Fall 2012-Winter 2013). "Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force Update." Alaska Justice Forum 29(3-4): 8-9. The Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force, a sub-committee of the Criminal Justice Working Group (CJWG), focuses on promoting the goal that individuals released from incarceration do not return to custody. This article presents an update on progress on the Alaska Five-Year Prisoner Reentry Strategic Plan, 2011-2016, which was released by Task Force in February 2011.

The Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force focuses on promoting the goal that individuals released from incarceration do not return to custody. The Task Force is a sub-committee of the Criminal Justice Working Group (CJWG) which is concerned with "criminal justice administration issues, particularly crime prevention and reducing recidivism, and efficiencies in the justice system."

The Alaska Five-Year Prisoner Reentry Strategic Plan, 2011-2016 was developed by the Task Force and released in February 2011. (A summary of the plan is in the Alaska Justice Forum 28(2-3), Summer/Fall 2011.) There are currently four Task Force work groups-Employment, Misdemeanants, Substance Abuse, and Housing-addressing the issues identified in the Five-Year Plan.

Task Force members include representatives from the Alaska State Troopers, Department of Labor, Alaska Court System, Department of Corrections, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Division of Behavioral Health, Department of Corrections Chaplaincy Program, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Victims for Justice, Partners for Progress, Nine Star Education and Employment Services, Cook Inlet Tribal Corporation, United Way, Akeela House, the Alaska Native Justice Center, and an ex-offender. The co-chairs of the Task Force are Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) Deputy Commissioner of Reentry and Population Management Ronald Taylor and former DOC Deputy Commissioner for Rehabilitation and Reentry Carmen Gutierrez. Melissa Abrami is the project coordinator.

Following are highlights of the work groups' activity in the past year.

Regional reentry coalitions: The Task Force is focusing on establishing regional reentry coalitions to 1) inform communities of issues around prisoner reentry and public safety impacts when reentry is not successful, 2) educate regional probation offices about available community resources, and 3) identify gaps in community resources and provide this information to the Criminal Justice Working Group. There are currently three regional coalitions: Anchorage, Kenai, and Mat-Su. Regional reentry coalitions in Juneau and Dillingham are in the process of being established.

Criminal justice data collection: The Task Force Project Coordinator has been assisting with the Alaska Public Safety Information (APSIN) Identification Project to improve the state's ability to accurately and comprehensively collect criminal justice data. Much of the work has now been transferred to the Alaska Multi-Agency Justice Integration Consortium (MAJIC).

Affordable housing: The Task Force formed a Housing Work group to develop a strategic plan to improve access to affordable housing for returning offenders. The inaugural work group meeting was held August 27, 2012 to discuss the use of 2.9 million dollars of State Special Needs Housing Grant funds that have been designated to produce housing options in Anchorage for former prisoners. Several housing service providers attended to present a brief overview on their program, and to identify gaps and needs in the Anchorage community.

Educating employers about hiring ex-offenders: The Task Force Employment Work Group has prepared a presentation to educate the business community on the benefits of hiring the ex-offender population. This presentation emphasizes the social and public safety implications of improved prisoner reentry outcomes. It is anticipated that representatives from DOC, the Department of Law (DOL) and a private employer will present at Alaska Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, the Anchorage Society for Human Resource Management (ASHRM) and other community organizations. In 2012, then-DOC Deputy Commissioner Carmen Gutierrez presented at the Fairbanks Downtown Rotary and at the University of Alaska Fairbanks continuing education program.

Access to community-based treatment: The Substance Abuse Work Group identified strategies and action steps to improve former offenders' access to community-based substance abuse treatment. A critical component is the strong collaboration between the DOC and the Alaska Division of Behavioral Health (DBH). DOC and the Division of Behavioral Health are developing an electronic data interface (EDI) which will allow for single source data and a two-way information sharing system. DOC is in the process of hiring a criminal justice technician to oversee the electronic data interface. DOC and DBH are working on determining certification eligibility of all substance abuse treatment providers within the State, and establishing a means to monitor and recognize the certification status of all agencies. The work group also identified the need for offenders to have alcohol/drug assessments while incarcerated and in community residential centers.

Sentencing options for misdemeanants: The Misdemeanor Work Group investigated deferred sentencing options for lower level misdemeanants, and the Department of Law has agreed to consider greater use of the state civil compromise statute-AS 12.45.120-and to encourage prosecutors to consider deferred sentencing options when appropriate. (According to AS 12.145.120, under certain conditions, a misdemeanor crime involving a victim could be the basis for a lawsuit in civil court, and the victim may choose to file a civil suit. In such a case, the criminal charges might be dismissed and the matter of the civil remedy handled by the criminal court as part of the disposition of the criminal case.) A misdemeanor attorney from the Alaska Public Defender and from the Department of Law are now members of the work group. The work group also presented information on electronic monitoring (EM) to the Department of Corrections and the Department of Law Criminal Division, and provided updated information on EM cost and eligibility to district court judges. A recommendation was made to establish 24/7 sobriety programs and cognitive behavioral treatment programs in communities to provide judges with alternative sentencing options for misdemeanants. (Cognitive behavioral treatment is described in the U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections report, Cognitive Behavioral Treatment: A Review and Discussion for Corrections Professionals, as therapy through which "[c]lients are not only taught more positive behaviors to replace their old ways of getting through life, they are also shown how to be more attuned to the thought processes that led them to choose negative actions in the past.") Alternative ways to handle first-time minor consuming cases have also been discussed, and the Anchorage District Court is exploring the diversion program for first-time minor consumers now in place in the Juneau District Court.

Other progress on the Five-Year Plan

In addition to the specific activities of the work groups, other progress on the Five-Year Plan includes:

Behavioral health needs of returning prisoners: DOC is implementing an electronic medical records system and now has an additional IDP+ (Institutional Discharge Plus) counselor.

Fairbanks PACE Project: The Fairbanks PACE (Probationer Accountability and Certain Enforcement) domestic violence program for misdemeanants is being implemented and is designed to provide swift and certain consequences for probationers who violate conditions of release. The project will also survey victims' perceptions of safety before and after the offenders complete a batterers' intervention program. The UAA Justice Center is designing and implementing an evaluation strategy for the project.

Alaska sex offender population: Funds are in the Governor's FY13 budget for an additional institution-based sex offender management program for medium and minimum risk offenders at the Palmer Correctional Center. The FY13 budget also funds a mental health clinician to support the Bethel community-based sex offender program.

Faith-based prison reentry support: DOC has hired two state chaplains-one in Anchorage and one in Seward-as a result of funding in the Governor's FY13 budget. The Kenai Wildwood Institution now has an Alpha Ministries Program.

For information on the Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force and Alaska Department of Corrections Rehabilitation & Reentry, go to http://www.correct.state.ak.us/rehabilitation-reentry.