Dunleavy crime package focuses on deterrence over recidivism
A day after his first State of the State address, which focused on the fulfillment of campaign promises, Gov. Mike Dunleavy rolled out four crime bills he believes will flip the switch on Alaska's rising crime rates.
Citing statistics from the Department of Public Safety's Uniform Crime Report released in 2018, the Republican described a trend his administration deems unacceptable. Overall, Alaska's crime rate has risen by 26 percent over the last five years, with the violent crime rate up by 35 percent.
The pending Senate bills, which mark Dunleavy's response to criminal justice reform measure Senate Bill 91, address the following areas of Alaska's criminal justice system:
Dunleavy said the proposed legislation released Wednesday is "just the beginning" of his publicly promised "comprehensive" plan to improve Alaskans' safety, reiterating a consistent message: "Public safety is Job No. 1."
SB 35 — Sex Offenses
- Closes a loophole in Alaska sentencing law exposed by KTVA reporting of Justin Schneider's now notorious no-jail time plea deal. Under SB 35, non-consensual contact with semen would be considered a felony sex offense generating a sentencing range of two to 12 years.
- Increases penalties for third-degree sexual abuse of a minor when the age difference between the offender and victim is six years or greater, makes solicitation of a minor a felony in all circumstances, and makes indecent viewing or production of a picture a registerable sex offense if it involves a child.
- Changes current statutes appellate courts have ruled on to require a sex offender registered in another state to register in Alaska.
- Makes it illegal to send repeated unsolicited images depicting genitalia to another person.
SB 32 — Classification and Sentencing
- Increases sentencing ranges for people convicted of drug trafficking, and makes possession of drugs a felony again.
- Increases all sentencing ranges (felony and misdemeanor) that were reduced under SB 91.
- Creates a new criminal offense of terroristic threatening, allowing law enforcement to act on threats even if they were not carried out.
- Makes removing an electronic ankle monitor a new felony offense for both pretrial defendants and sentenced offenders.
- Increases the maximum length of required probation. For sex offense cases, the length probation increases from 15 to 25 years.
SB 33 — Pretrial (i.e. Bail)
"The governor intends to end the 'Catch and Release' cycle in Alaska," Clarkson said, before announcing effects of the proposed pretrial bill.
- Advances pretrial changes accomplished in HB 312 last year by strengthening bail statutes and returning to judges pre-SB 91 levels of discretion.
- Encourages courts to increase use of video-teleconferencing for all pre-trial hearings.
- Eliminates defendants' ability to earn credit toward a future sentence while on pre-trial electronic monitoring, a factor in the Justin Schneider case that drew harsh public criticism.
SB 34 — Probation and Parole
- Eliminates caps on the amount of time remaining on an offender's sentence that can be imposed if they violate probation conditions, and allows judges more discretion to consider technical violations.
- Changes the Earned Compliance Credit (good time) program — designed to incentivize good behavior on probation — from a day-for-day system to a three-to-one system, and strips offenders of good time earned if they violate their conditions.
- Eliminates good-time credit for offenders on post-trial electronic monitoring.
- Returns parole system to its pre-SB 91 structure, restricting certain offenders from discretionary parole eligibility (sex offenders etc.)
Clarkson noted the changes do not repeal SB 91 entirely, and described the measures as "plugging holes" in the existing system.
"There are parts of SB 91 that are worth keeping," he said. "For example, the increase of the penalty for murder. That's being retained. [...] This bill, broken into four pieces, [...] addresses parts of SB 91 that need to be changed and resets the stage and resets the clock back to pre-SB 91 time frames."
Dunleavy acknowledged that the bills, if passed, would come with increased spending, and potentially additional correctional facilities.
"Something I mention over and over, because I know it's hard for folks to believe, we will be expending resources in these areas to have the outcomes that we need," said Dunleavy.
He said, in listening to Alaskans, he will not spare any resources when it comes to public safety.
"When people ask the question, 'Are folks gonna go to jail?' Yes, they're gonna go to jail," Dunleavy said. "And will we need to increase the number of beds in jails? Probably, yes. Will we need to increase jails? Maybe. We'll see."
During his State of the State address Tuesday, the governor expressed plans to offer treatment to those whose crimes are fueled by addiction:
"For those Alaskans who have made a mistake and have gotten involved with opiates or other drugs and want help, we are a compassionate people as well. Therefore, as part of our public safety approach we will provide ways for you to break this habit and get back into society and be productive individuals."
During an off-camera briefing following the news conference, John Skidmore, director of the state Department of Law's Criminal Division, said working to reduce recidivism — said to be one of the goals of SB 91 — is not the administration's immediate priority.
"Right now, we can't just focus on recidivism, because as you're trying to focus on just that recidivism, somthin' else is burning, a lot brighter and a lot hotter," he said. "We gotta put that fire out first, then we can focus our attention on how do help people come out of the system better."
Skidmore said that issue is Alaska's rising crime rates.
"[These bills] are all designed in the long term to drive down that crime rate, to send messages to folks, to actually have deterrence," he explained.
When asked if the administration has or will consult with the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, which had a significant influence in crafting SB 91, Clarkson said, "Certainly we will discuss the issues with the Commission and take their thoughts into consideration, but it was their thoughts and consideration that lead to SB 91 in the first place."
In an interview after the news conference, Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, who is the current chair of the Criminal Justice Commission, responded to Dunleavy's remarks.
"The Criminal Justice Commission has never been the ones to make the policy calls," he said, explaining that the legislature exercised independent judgement when reviewing and choosing whether to adopt the commission's recommendations.
Claman expressed doubts over Dunleavy's ability to fund his public safety plan while paying out full Permanent Fund Dividends and slashing the budget.
"The governor, last night, he proposed a constitutional amendment that will limit government spending at a certain amount, putting a spending cap on it, and yet today at his news conference his answer is, 'There's no limit of money that I'm willing to dedicate to public safety,'" Claman said. "The practical reality is that there will be limits and we're gonna have to make decisions on a budget basis about what can we really afford to do and what will actually work, and that's all about making wise use of our public safety resources."
He also said that he doesn't see the proposal as a repeal of any of the criminal justice reform, and "these claims about repeal Senate Bill 91 is just literally fake news."
While lawmakers are still reviewing the bills, Claman did say he has identified some shared points of interest. He previously announced his own pre-filed bill to address issues highlighted by the Justin Schneider case.
The full news conference is available here:
KTVA reporter Steve Quinn contributed to this story.
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