Pretrial supervision, revised drug penalties and alternatives to prison for low-level offenders are among the reforms needed to reduce Alaska’s growing prison population and high recidivism rate, according to the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission.
The state's prison population has grown by 27 percent in the last decade and its corrections system cost $327 million in fiscal year 2014, said the report, released last month. According to projections, Alaska will need to house an additional 1,416 inmates by 2024, which is expected to cost at least $169 million in new corrections spending over the next decade.
The seven-month-long study, commissioned by state legislators, said the justice reinvestment approach followed by many other states could reduce Alaska’s average daily prison population by 21 percent, while still protecting public safety and holding offenders accountable.
Alaska's challenges with long-term prison growth are not unique, members of the commission wrote. But in recent years many states, including Georgia, Texas, Utah and North Carolina, have implemented justice reinvestment reforms to reduce correctional costs and improve public safety—leading to a 3 percent decrease in the nationwide correctional population between 2009 and 2014.
The commission's 21 “consensus” recommendations for Alaska include:
- A revision of drug penalties to focus the most severe punishment on higher level drug offenders
- Focusing pretrial supervision on high-risk defendants
- Expanding the use of discretionary parole
- Implementing a special parole option for older inmates, who have low recidivism rates.
Read the report HERE.