Walker to add crime bill to October special session

Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth speaks to reporters at a press availability on September 15, 2017 (Photo by Daniel Hernandez, Alaska Public Media - Anchorage)

Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth speaks to reporters at a press availability on Friday. Gov. Bill Walker and Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams are also pictured. (Photo by Daniel Hernandez/Alaska Public Media)

A rise in crime in Alaska has led Gov. Bill Walker to seek a bill in the special session next month that would allow more jail time for some thefts and other crimes.

A Sept. 6 report found that Alaska saw higher rates of larcenies, robberies, burglaries and assaults last year. Walker said the report shows the need for the Legislature to take action this year.

“Clearly, the crime report shows we can’t wait until next year,” Walker said in a press conference in Anchorage on Friday. “This isn’t something that we’ll get to next year when we can get to it. This is something we need to get to now.”

Walker is calling on the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 54. The legislation would increase the potential jail time for both class C felonies and low-level thefts. Until late last year, C felony convictions could lead to two years in jail. Under a law enacted last year, first-time offenders could receive probation.

Under Senate Bill 54, the sentence could be as much as one year.

“You know, there have to be consequences for wrongdoing,” Walker said. “And we need to make sure the judges have the discretion for that.”

The proposed bill is not based on the social science evidence that led to last year’s bill. Researchers say reducing jail time is associated with decreases in repeat offenses. One goal of last year’s bill was to shift state spending from jailing offenders to spending money on drug treatment and prevention.

Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission used other evidence to recommend the changes in Senate Bill 54.

“There was a lot of testimony before the commission, and that is evidence,” Lindemuth said. “It may not be the same kind of statistical evidence that resulted in (last year’s law). But we have additional evidence that’s in the crime report itself.”

She said the proposed bill amounts to minor tweaks to last year’s law. Walker has asked Lindemuth to recommend more changes to state law that the Legislature could take up next year.

North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill said he supports passing the bill. He said the bill’s provisions respond to concerns raised by the public about rising crime.

“Even though they get outside the bounds of data certainty, certainly the public outcry has been very clear,” Coghill said. “And so these were answers to that on some of the felony issues.”

The Senate passed the bill 19 to 1 in April. But it never had a hearing in the House.

Dillingham Democratic House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said in a statement that the caucus is committed to seriously considering policy recommendations that evidence shows will make Alaskans safer. He noted that state budget cuts have reduced the of number prosecutors, state troopers and local law enforcement officers.

Wesley Early in Anchorage contributed to this report.

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