According to its Department of Law, Alaska is the only state to adopt a pretrial mandatory release mechanism in statute, but the new and controversial concept could soon become a thing of the past. 

Friday, the House cast the deciding vote on a crime bill that lawmakers believe closes a loophole in the state's current pretrial system, a delayed component of Senate Bill 91 that went into effect on January 1. 

Currently, people who score as low and moderate risk on the state's risk assessment tool, depending on the crime, can qualify for mandatory own recognizance (OR) release: That means the judge has to let them go without paying monetary bail-- even in some felony cases.

There are some exceptions, including for cases involving violent crimes and sex crimes. 

But the tool doesn't include a defendant's out-of-state criminal history, something one in three people who qualify for mandatory release have, that's not looked at. 

Through a Freedom of Information Act Request to the Department of Corrections, KTVA learned of the 5,803 assessments completed between January 1 and May 3, 2,719 of them -- roughly 47 percent -- qualified someone for mandatory release.

That means almost half of all the bail decisions made in the first four months of the year were determined by a computer-generated algorithm. 

Lawmakers who supported mandatory release said the idea was that those people released would be supervised by the state's new pretrial enforcement officers, but the tool oftentimes specifically advises against supervising the people it mandates be released. 

Now, the Department of Law says bail categories that are labeled as "Mandatory OR" will become "Presumptive OR," if House Bill 312 becomes law. Presumptive OR means the individual is presumed to be eligible to be released without paying bail, but the judge can still set bail-- if the judge makes findings that there's clear and convincing evidence the person presents a risk to the community or might not show up for court appearances. 

"I think the changes were critical because I think otherwise the judges' hands were tied," said Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), "I think that's a good result because I think that I trust our judges and I think that we'll be safer as a consequence." 

Wednesday, Austin Baird, Governor Bill Walker's press secretary said, “This bill has not yet been transmitted by the Legislature and must still be reviewed by the Department of Law. However, based on our initial understanding that this bill contains the Governor’s Public Safety Action Plan legislative priorities, he presently intends to sign the legislation.” 

Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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