Alaska Gov. Bill Walker this week signed a bill that provides for sweeping reforms to the way the state sentences criminals, the Juneau Empire reports. Nonviolent offenders and those arrested for simple possession of drugs will receive lighter sentences intended to improve the odds that they will return to society instead of reoffending and returning to prison. If it is successful, the new law will reduce the state’s prison population by 13 percent by 2024 and save more than $320 million in the process,
“It’s not just about money,” Walker said. “It’s about people. It’s about people’s lives.” Walker said the state’s prison system is putting people into a cycle of imprisonment they can’t escape from. He offered an analogy: “We were a factory ─ and I don’t like to refer to prison as a factory ─ and two-thirds of what we sent out got recalled.” The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission has been meeting since 2014 to suggest the changes that ultimately became the law. Former Alaska Supreme Court justice Alexander Bryner, a member of the commission, said, “I just think it’s kind of a miracle that all of this has happened.” More than $100 million will be invested into rehabilitation programs, and the criminal justice commission will continue to meet to make suggestions on fixes to the system.