DOC instructed probation, parole officers to ignore new crimes
Probation and parole officers were told to look the other way when it comes to violations of the law, according to an internal Department of Corrections email.
The email, dated Jan. 11, 2017, is from former Region III Chief Probation Officer Keith Thayer to staff members. It informs recipients of the department's stance on charging individuals who are serving time on probation or parole for violating the law, following the passage of Senate Bill 91, Alaska's controversial criminal justice reform package.
Subject: "Comply all laws..." General Condition *must read*
During our DPP Leadership Committee yesterday, a statewide question came-up concerning whether the "Comply all laws..." General Condition can be used absent a new criminal charge.
DOC is taking the position that this allegation should only be used when a new criminal offense has been charged by an outside law enforcement agency. Charging as an allegation of "Comply all laws..." General Condition without a new criminal charge is outside the intent of SB 91.
Additionally, we should not be doing this function for other agencies, who are choosing not to charge. It is not our mission, focus, or within our training to charge/prove new crimes. Please focus on the violations of the current conditions when addressing these situations. The Director and Deputy Director will be discussing this stance with the Department of Law to help them understand that we will not be using this condition without a new criminal offense being charged.
Please contact your supervisor, if you have any questions.
According to Alaska law, every individual released on probation and parole must obey all state, federal and local laws, as well as conditions of release specific to the case.
In an email Monday, Thayer, who now works as a staff member to the Parole Board, said at the time he sent the email he was in charge of the Anchorage region. He said he left the left the Division of Probation and Parole in April 2017.
"You would need to discuss this email with the Division of Probation and Parole leadership, Director [Jen] Winkelman and [Division Operations Manager Rebecca] Brunger, through DOC's media contact," he wrote. "The email you are referring to was written at the direction of the former Director Carrie Belden."
Thayer declined to answer further questions about his thoughts on the email.
In its annual report released in November 2018, the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission — which helped craft SB 91 — reports that when it comes to parole and probation supervision, the amount of people re-arrested for a supervision violation is down. It also states the majority of petitions to revoke probation or parole were for technical violations, rather than new crimes.
The report has been cited by supporters of SB 91 as a demonstration of the legislation's success, while the email now draws into question the quality of the data, as probation and parole officers were advised not to act when they knew an offender was violating the law, unless another agency was aware and charging the crime.
Technical violations are defined as incidents such as failing a drug test or missing an appointment with a probation officer, while violations of the law are considered more serious. An example could be a felon possessing a firearm in their home.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, obtained a copy of the email independently of KTVA and included it in an article on his political website. He asserts the intent behind the order is to make crime statistics look better than they really are in the wake of SB 91.
"When parolees aren’t charged with breaking the law, they don’t go back to prison, and SB91’s numbers on repeat offenders look really good. But they aren’t. Alaskans are hurting today because criminals have been given a free pass," he wrote.
A spokesperson for the DOC said Monday that the department was working to respond to questions regarding the email.
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