DOC reverses instruction to probation, parole officers to ignore new crimes
Limitations placed on how probation and parole officers perform their duties during the previous administration have been rolled back, according to the Department of Corrections.
The restrictions were discovered in an internal DOC email obtained by KTVA in May. The email was not meant for the public's eyes and contradicts the words on forms handed to people as they're released from custody on state supervision.
Every person released on bail, probation and parole is given a set of conditions they must follow in order to remain out of jail. Some conditions of release are specific to the case. An individual struggling with addiction might be restricted from consuming alcohol.
Everyone is given the following basic condition:
"You shall comply with all municipal, state and federal laws."
They're also warned:
"You are subject to arrest by a probation officer with or without a warrant if the officer has cause to believe that you have violated a condition of your probation."
Don't commit new crimes or there will be consequences, the statements communicate.
But according to the internal DOC email, that hasn't always been the case.
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.
The email tells probation and parole officers they can only act on a violation of the "comply with all laws" condition if an outside agency has charged the person with a new crime.
Charging someone with a violation for failing to comply with all laws, without a new criminal charge filed by an outside law enforcement agency, "is outside the intent of SB 91," the message says.
Absent action from another agency, probation and parole officers are essentially expected to look the other way when a person they're supervising violates conditions of release by committing a new crime.
At the time of KTVA's initial reporting on the email's existence, some lawmakers theorized that the move was an attempt to make the state's data look better than it really was after the passage of SB 91, which has since been largely repealed and replaced.
In May, DOC spokesperson Sarah Gallagher cited AS 33.05.040 in defense of the email, writing:
"Probation Officers adhere to the duties of a probation officer and do NOT have the authority to charge for a new crime. They can only add an additional charge of probation/parole violation to a new charge filed by a law enforcement agency. Therefore, if a person has not been charged with a new crime by another agency, than the PO cannot allege a new crime has occurred and charge the individual with a violation. For example, if the DA or a police officer calls a PO and says that they have certain information on a probationer where the conduct can be alleged as a new crime and asks that it be filed as a probation violation in lieu of filing new criminal charges, we will not file it. It has always been standard practice that Probation Officers do not originate new charges, they will however submit an additional charge of probation/parole violation to a new charge.
This is not a policy, but was sent as an email reminder of standard practice sent by individuals in the prior administration who are no longer with the Department."
A quick check of public court records found cases from before the email was sent out in which DOC officers had filed petitions to revoke probation for individuals caught violating their conditions of release by committing new crimes, even in the absence of new charges.
In one example, a probationer was caught shoplifting from Walmart and detained at the store but Anchorage police officers didn't show up to respond. He was let go. Charges for the theft were not filed. The probation officer still wrote up and filed a report on the violation.
That changed after the email.
Wednesday, during the Alaska Parole Board's annual public meeting, KTVA asked board members to weigh in on the issue.
Director Jeffrey Edwards said, "I'm not familiar enough with the direction from the commissioner on how that all unfolded so I reserve the right to comment on that. It's not part of what we do. That's an internal function from the other side of DOC."
The five-member board serves as one of the most powerful players in Alaska's justice system and is in charge of deciding who gets released early under parole supervision.
While Edwards said he was not aware of how that supervision currently works when it comes to violations of the comply with all laws condition, he said he was still confident that violations were being reported to the board appropriately.
In an email Wednesday evening, Gallgher addressed the issue citing AS 33.05.040 again, noting the DOC's stance on the issue has changed.
"After review of the previous directive, Probation and Parole Officers were notified that it was this administration's expectation that all new law violations will be brought to the attention of the Court and/or the Parole Board. Under AS 33.05.040(2), it is the Department's duty to supervise the conduct of offenders and keep the Court and/or the Parole Board informed of their conduct. "
The change was made in late June, Gallagher said, after the department had time to review the previous administration's direction.
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