Smart on crime and smart justice initiatives seek to reform criminal justice systems by reducing correctional populations and their recidivism rates while lowering costs, maintaining offender accountability, and ensuring public safety. There are two major smart justice initiatives underway in the state: "Results First" and "Justice Reinvestment"- both of which are responses by Alaska's leaders to the need to examine criminal justice reform.
The Governor's Office, the Alaska Court System, and the Alaska Legislature issued an invitation to the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew)-a public policy research organization based in Washington, DC-to come to Alaska to provide technical assistance with this critical endeavor. (Pew has assisted a number of other states in similar efforts.) Pew's contribution involves working with the entities guiding these efforts, including state agencies and other critical stakeholders. While Justice Reinvestment and Results First have some overlap, they are unique in other ways, and each has a different focus and timeline. By relying on both these approaches, Alaska's leaders ensure that the state is looking at the multiple components required for successful criminal justice reform.
The significant distinctions between the two projects are as follows. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) is a short-term project which includes analyzing data to identify the drivers of prison growth such as sentencing practices, suggesting ways to control prison growth and costs, and drafting legislative language to implement changes to the criminal justice system. The Results First Initiative (RFI), on the other hand, is a longer-term project-a one to two-year capacity-building effort and ongoing benefit-cost analysis-which comprises collecting data on the costs and benefits of programs to reduce recidivism, determining and comparing the long-term return on investment achieved by these programs, and promoting evidence-based decision-making. Results First develops into a more consistent review of programs funded by the state. This work will also extend into other policy areas (e.g., juvenile justice, mental health, substance abuse). Table 1 outlines the major elements of each of these initiatives.
Across the nation, many states are engaged in justice reinvestment reforms, and a number of research organizations (in addition to Pew) are involved in these projects as well. The efforts now underway in Alaska hold the promise of decreasing criminal justice system costs during a time of severe budget constraints-as well as the possibility of reinvesting savings in the most effective programs and supervision strategies for reducing recidivism and improving public safety. These goals promote healthier and safer citizens and communities, and help control correctional population growth and costs.
Barbara Armstrong is the editor of the Alaska Justice Forum.