During the process of developing their recommendations, the 13 Commission members
followed the methodology described in SB 64 which outlined a range of 12 factors to
consider. Among these are peer-reviewed data and research on sentencing, corrections,
and community supervision; input from criminal justice stakeholders; and public hearings
and listening sessions statewide. Technical assistance was provided by The Pew Charitable
Trusts at no charge to the state through Pew's Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a
private-public partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice
Key findings illustrate the growth over the past decade in the number of offenders
incarcerated in Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities: pretrial inmates (persons
awaiting a hearing and/or not yet convicted of a crime) — up 81 percent; and the number
of post-conviction inmates — up 14 percent. There has also been a rise in the number
of offenders in community corrections during the same period: offenders on probation
and/or parole-up 62 percent; offenders in community residential centers (CRCs) — up
42 percent; and offenders on electronic monitoring-up 229 percent. Over the past 10
years, the length of stay for sentenced felony offenders in a DOC facility was up
31 percent. In 2014, nearly 75 percent of admissions for post-conviction offenders
were for a nonviolent offense. On a typical day, offenders housed in a DOC institution
for a technical violation of probation and/or parole conditions make up over 20 percent
of the incarcerated population.
Consensus Recommendations of the Commission
The recommendations of the Commission are briefly summarized below. The Commission
noted that these recommendations are a "package of reforms" and that deleting any
of the recommendations will impact the effectiveness of the reform strategy.
Implement evidence-based pretrial practices
Recommendation 1: Expand the use of citations in place of arrest for lower-level nonviolent offenses.
Law enforcement officers should issue citations for more nonviolent misdemeanors and
Class C felonies with exclusions for offenses against a person, domestic violence
offenses, violation of probation/parole conditions, and offenses for which a warrant
or summons has been ordered, and with discretion to make arrests when the person is
dangerous or a flight risk. This approach may assist in reducing the current high
number of pretrial admissions to jail for minor offenses.
Recommendation 2: Utilize risk-based release decision-making.
The Department of Corrections, in collaboration with the Department of Law, the Public
Defender, the Department of Public Safety, and the Alaska Court System, should establish
a system for pretrial release based on risk assessment for all defendants. The plan
should define appropriate release conditions, including a mechanism for the court
to make an alternative decision regarding release in certain situations.
Recommendation 3: Implement meaningful pretrial supervision.
DOC should supervise moderate and high-risk defendants released pretrial, and establish
a standardized procedure for recommendation of pretrial diversion options and referrals
for substance and mental health treatment services. The Alaska Court System should
implement a system to remind criminal defendants of court date hearings.
Recommendation 4: Focus supervision resources on high-risk defendants.
DOC should focus the most restrictive conditions of release on those pretrial defendants
who have been identified as being most likely to reoffend or miss their court appearance,
with the option of a bail hearing to present their case for release to the court for
those defendants who are being held without release due to conditions that they cannot
Focus prison beds on serious and violent offenders
Recommendation 5: Limit the use of prison for lower-level misdemeanor offenders.
Because research has shown that jail time for persons with lower-level nonviolent
offenses can result in increased, rather than decreased, criminal behavior, the Commission
has suggested reclassifying a number of nonviolent misdemeanors as violations, and redirecting lower-level nonviolent offenders to alternative sanctions such as
fines, probation, and electronic monitoring. This recommendation also includes a proposal
to make changes to presumptive sentencing ranges for Class A misdemeanors.
Recommendation 6: Revise drug penalties to focus the most severe punishments on higher-level drug offenders.
In light of the rise over the past 10 years in post-conviction prison admissions for
drug offenses, and the research on the limited effect long stays in prison have on
recidivism for these offenders, the Commission recommended reclassifying the crime
of simple drug possession to a misdemeanor. The Commission also recommended making
penalties for commercial heroin (selling or intent to sell) commensurate with penalties
for commercial methamphetamine and cocaine offenses, and creating a tiered drug statute
with regards to the amount and type of drug involved.
Recommendation 7: Utilize inflation-adjusted property thresholds.
Recent research has shown that raising the dollar amount threshold for felony theft
does not result in an increase in property crime. Alaska's current felony theft threshold
is $750. The felony threshold dollar amount should be raised to $2,000, and a process
created to ensure sanctions are adjusted to keep pace with inflation. Prison space
should be utilized for more serious offenders, rather than nonviolent property crime
Recommendation 8: Align non-sex felony presumptive ranges with prior presumptive terms.
Following the implementation in 2005 of a presumptive sentencing range for a non-sex
felony, the length of stay for all classes of non-sex felonies increased. Because
this was not the original legislative intent, the recommendation is to bring presumptive
ranges for non-sex felonies back into alignment with the prior 2005 levels. Longer
stays in prison have been shown to have no greater impact on reducing recidivism than
Recommendation 9: Expand and streamline the use of discretionary parole.
DOC should increase eligibility for discretionary parole to all but the most serious
felony offenders, and the process for parole decision-making for lower-level felony
offenders should be streamlined. In instances where it is shown that an offender would
be a threat to public safety, parole could be denied.
Recommendation 10: Implement a specialty parole option for long-term, geriatric inmates.
Geriatric inmates are typically much less likely to reoffend than younger inmates,
according to research. To reduce the number of the oldest cohort of offenders incarcerated,
there should be an automatic parole hearing for offenders between the ages of 55 and
60 years who have served a minimum of 10 years of their sentence.
Recommendation 11: Incentivize completion of treatment for sex offenders with an earned time policy.
Studies have shown that in-prison sex offender treatment can be effective and can
have a cost-benefit. Most sex offenders will be released back to the community at
some point whether or not they have completed treatment. The Department of Corrections
should incentivize participation in and completion of in-prison sex offender treatment
by allowing offenders to earn time off of their prison terms for completion of sex
offender treatment. DOC should also provide more in-prison sex offender treatment
programs that address cognitive behavioral issues of the offender and stress accountability
for harm done.
Strengthen supervision and interventions to reduce recidivism
Recommendation 12: Implement graduated sanctions and incentives.
DOC should create a graduated sanctions and incentives matrix using swift, certain,
and proportional responses for community supervision field officers (probation and
parole officers) to follow when rewarding prosocial behavior and when responding to
technical violations of probation and/or parole conditions.
Recommendation 13: Reduce pre-adjudication length of stay and cap overall incarceration time for technical
violations of supervision.
The use of a return to prison as a sanction for a technical violation of conditions
of parole and/or probation (e.g., missing an appointment with a probation/parole officer,
failing a drug screening) should be limited to a specific number of days-such as three
days for the first revocation. Technical violators of probation and/or parole supervision
represent 22 percent of the incarcerated population, and the average length of stay
is 106 days in a DOC facility. Incarceration for such periods has not been shown to
be an effective sanction. In order to be effective, sanctions should be disruptive
enough that probationers and parolees will want to avoid the sanction, but not so
disruptive that they derail the prosocial aspects of the person's life (ability to
maintain a job, pay rent, care for children, etc.). Also, uncompleted Community Work
Service and the inability to afford court-ordered substance abuse treatment should
not result in additional jail time.
Recommendation 14: Establish a system of earned compliance credits.
There should be a statutorily-defined system by which offenders on probation and/or
parole who are compliant with the conditions of their release can decrease their length
of time under community supervision, e.g., one month of earned credits on probation/parole
for each month of compliance with the conditions of their supervision.
Recommendation 15: Reduce maximum lengths for probation terms and standardize early discharge proceedings.
Research has shown that most offenders recidivate during the first three months after
release; however, the time that offenders in Alaska spend on probation and/or parole
has increased by 13 percent over the past 10 years. The Commission recommended changes
to the maximum probation terms based on the type of offense, and recommended decreasing
time on probation or parole for compliant offenders, including an adjustment to the
minimum time requirement for eligibility for early discharge from probation or parole
to one year.
Recommendation 16: Extend good time eligibility to offenders serving sentences on electronic monitoring.
Offenders who are incarcerated usually can reduce their sentence through positive
behavior-called earning "good time." Offenders who are on electronic monitoring are
not eligible for this, however, and should have the same option to earn "good time"
under the same provisions as offenders in DOC facilities.
Recommendation 17: Focus ASAP [Alcohol Safety Action Program] resources to improve program effectiveness.
The Alcohol Safety Action Program works with court-referred offenders involved in
alcohol/drug-related misdemeanor cases, and provides screening and treatment referral
services. ASAP's effectiveness could be enhanced by focusing on high-risk misdemeanants
— those most likely to reoffend-or alternatively, by limiting the categories of offenses
eligible for referral to the program. ASAP should include the use of validated screening
tools to assist in assessment of criminogenic risk, and should increase case supervision
of moderate- to high-risk offenders, if possible.
Recommendation 18: Improve treatment offerings in CRCs [community residential centers] and focus use
of CRC resources on high-need offenders.
Both low- and high-risk offenders are currently housed in community residential centers
(CRCs). CRCs should use validated assessment tools to identify offenders at highest
risk to reoffend and their treatment needs (e.g., cognitive-behavioral, substance
abuse, after care and/or support services), and focus on providing treatment services
for this population. Housing low- and high-risk offenders together should be limited.
Ensure oversight and accountability
Recommendation 19: Require collection of key performance measures and establish an oversight council.
The following agencies should be mandated to collect and report data on key performance
measures each year: the Alaska Court System, Department of Corrections, Department
of Health and Social Services, Department of Law, Department of Public Safety, and
the Parole Board. A Justice Reinvestment Oversight Task Force should be created to
monitor the implementation of the Commission's recommendations, assist in administering
the reinvestment of justice reform savings back into the criminal justice system,
evaluate government processes regarding victim restitution and assistance, and make
additional recommendations on justice reform. This Task Force will report its findings
to the Legislature and the Governor.
Recommendation 20: Ensure policymakers are aware of the impact of all future legislative proposals that
could affect prison populations.
All proposed sentencing and correctional policies changes should be required to attach
a 10-year fiscal impact statement for review by policymakers.
Recommendation 21: Advance crime victim priorities.
Based on roundtable discussions with crime victims, survivors, and victim advocates,
the Commission has outlined six proposed administrative reforms to address the concerns
and needs of crime victims. These reforms touch on issues such as efforts to increase
crime victim participation in the court notification system, reduction of the likelihood
of victim-offender contact, crime victim needs during offender transition and reentry
planning, enhanced victim-focused training for criminal justice professionals, provision
of trauma-informed services for child victims, and increased accessibility of court
and criminal justice agency communications for persons with low literacy and/or limited
Recognizing that its recommendations will result in substantial state general fund
savings over the next decade, the Commission strongly recommended reinvesting a portion
of the savings into underfunded, but high priority, services including pretrial supervision,
victims' services in remote and rural communities, violence prevention and restorative
justice programming, substance abuse and behavioral health treatment, and reentry
The Commission reached consensus on the above 21 recommendations, and majority approval
for the six recommendations below. These six recommendations were not listed under
any specific category.
Additional Recommendation 1: Require that all misdemeanor DUI and refusal to submit
to a chemical test offenders serve their incarceration terms in proven prison alternatives
(variation on recommendation 5(e)).
The above category of offenders should be referred specifically to supervision under
remote surveillance technologies (e.g., electronic monitoring) or to a community residential
Additional Recommendation 2: Set the weight threshold at which more serious commercial drug offenses are differentiated
from less serious offenses at 5 grams (variation on recommendation 6 (c)).
Serious commercial drug offenses (selling or intent to sell) should have a threshold
level of 5 grams of the drug.
Additional Recommendation 3: Bring the presumptive ranges under the ceiling of prior presumptive terms (variation
on recommendation 8).
Presumptive sentencing ranges should be brought back under the ceiling of the 2005
presumptive sentencing terms, and allow presumptive probation for both first- and
second-time Class C Felony offenders.
Additional Recommendation 4: Return sentence length for Felony C and B sex offenders to pre-2006 levels.
In light of research that has shown that recidivism rates for sex offenders are lower
than some other offense types, the majority of the Commission recommended that the
length of stay in prison for Felony C and B sex offenders be reduced by returning
these crimes to the pre-2006 presumptive sentencing terms.
Additional Recommendation 5: Expand Medicaid funding to provide substance abuse treatment for indigent offenders.
The treatment needs of high-risk offenders-many of whom are Alaska Mental Health Trust
Authority beneficiaries-should be addressed by enrolling more of these offenders in
Medicaid to ensure availability of services.
Additional Recommendation 6: Limit the use of multiple misdemeanor revocations for the same allegation of program
The use of multiple revocations of probation and/or parole for misdemeanor offenses
that are violations of probation and/or parole conditions should be reduced. Such
revocations normally result in additional jail time. This issue should be addressed
administratively in the court process, and the offender should be given the opportunity
to successfully complete the program conditions of probation and/or parole.
Barbara Armstrong is the editor of the Alaska Justice Forum.