AK Criminal Justice Commission considers expungement of criminal records
Should criminal history follow Alaskans forever, or should former inmates be given a clean slate after a period of good behavior? That's a conversation happening now among members of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC).
An action item on Governor Bill Walker's Public Safety Action Plan reads:
Evaluate possibility of legislation to remove barriers for former inmates to reenter the job force, including the possibility of expungement of criminal records after period of good behavior.
The updated plan says the ACJC's 13 members are considering expungement possibilities now, and Alaskans could see a legislative proposal as early as the 2019 session.
"It's a lively discussion and it's a good one because I think it's the right thing to do," said Department of Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams, a voting member of the commission that will likely make recommendations to lawmakers on expungement legislation.
Williams says he supports expungement options, even in felony cases, "I'm very much in favor of a way for someone to get a black mark off their record after they have proven that they've learned from their lesson, that they've addressed their mistake, and that they've been a good citizen since that mistake."
"Expungement is going to be very difficult to get," said Senator John Coghill (R-North Pole), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and non-voting member of the ACJC.
"I don't think that we in Alaska are ready for total expungement. There might be some times where maybe taking it off CourtView might be reasonable, but I can tell you there are many of us, myself included, who are not big fans of expungement," said Coghill.
Coghill did share an anecdote of someone he knows who committed a felony as a 19-year-old, which disqualified him from a promotion to a chief of police position in the Lower 48 three decades later.
"Is that right, after he spent 30 years making his life right? I'd say there's probably a reasonable discussion to say that should probably not count after so many years, especially if you had good behavior," said Coghill.
In the House Majority, an expungement measure would face critics like Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), a former prosecutor.
"I don't think I favor it. I think the smarter way is to look at it from the other side and say, 'Are there barriers to employment that are unreasonable?'" Josephson said.
A small step in that direction is currently making its way through the committee process. Senate Bill 184, sponsored by Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage), would make cases that only involved the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana confidential.
"The record would still be searchable by law enforcement entities, it doesn't eliminate the record," Begich told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.
Eliminating records as part of a full-blown expungement process will be significantly more tricky, as it must be balanced with public safety.
"We're really looking at what other states do to really try to get some balance to still hold those things accountable for people we don't want that opportunity for, but there's a whole host of other people we do," said Williams.
While Alaskans could see a proposal as early as next Spring, Coghill believes enacting expungement is a decision much further away.
"Even if it's proposed, all it will do is frame the discussion," said Coghill.
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