Senate Bill 91 is based on a simple premise. Empty prisons. Save money. Put some of it back into programs to help inmates stay out of prison.

Even so, there are a lot of moving pieces in this massive piece of legislation passed in 2016. In this episode of Frontiers, we look at some of the bill’s promise, as well as potential problems.

Here are some of this week’s highlights:

    • SB 91 pros and cons: We hear from offenders at the Cordova Center, in downtown Anchorage, about their struggles to break the cycle of multiple incarcerations. Edie Grunwald also weighs in. Her son, David, was tortured and killed last year. Grunwald fears SB 91, which relaxes some laws, will make the streets more dangerous.
    • Sen. John Coghill: One of our guests this week, a Republican who lead the bipartisan fight for crime reform, along with Sen. Johnny Ellis, a Democrat. Coghill is one of the main architects of SB 91 and explains how it will help non-violent offenders, about half of the prison population, stay out of jail.
    • Venus Woods: Venus tells the story of her inspiring journey from meth addict to inmate to supervisor of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s prison re-entry program.

As Senate Bill 91 is gradually phased in, it remains a work in progress. Next year a new pretrial division will come on line, to keep better track offenders, as well as direct them to services.

But two big questions remain: How much will the state save by liberalizing its policies on non-violent offenders, and will some of those savings find its way back into the system to help offenders get substance abuse treatment or other help they need to stay out of jail?

The legislature has created the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission to oversee the bill’s implementation. Here’s a link to the commission’s most recent report:

Alaska Victims for Justice, one of the groups concerned about potential fallout from SB 91, says this commission is key to making sure the law works as intended.

This week’s Frontiers show is intended to be an introduction to a few of the main issues surrounding the new law. We hope we’ve given you a good overview.

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