(3-minute read) CLOSES ‘JUSTIN SCHNEIDER LOOPHOLE,’ GIVES DISCRETION TO JUDGES
Gov. Michael Dunleavy rolled out his “repeal and replace” legislation on Wednesday, making good on his promise to get tough on crime and close the more egregious loopholes still present in Alaska criminal justice law.
His bills will come with fiscal notes — that means State money — and may require more prisons to be built and more prison beds, he said. How he will pay for it while reducing the overall state budget remains to be seen, as his budget is not due until Feb. 13.
“We will be expending resources in these areas to have the outcomes that we need,” said Dunleavy. “When people ask the question, ‘Are folks going go to jail?’ Yes, they’re going go to jail.”
“And will we need to increase the number of beds in jails? Probably yes,” he said. “Will we need to increase jails? Maybe. We’ll see.”
The four bills Dunleavy rolled out today dismantle many of the elements of the notorious SB 91, which many Alaskans believe has led to a crime wave, and which former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth admitted was an experiment.
SB 32: Classification and Sentencing. SB 32 increases the range of sentencing for those convicted of drug trafficking. Possession of certain illegal drugs would once again become a felony. It also increases sentencing ranges for felonies and misdemeanors that were reduced by SB 91.
It would make terroristic threatening a new criminal offense, so that law law enforcement officers can act on threats, even if those threats are not carried out.
And if criminals remove an electronic ankle monitor, they’ll face a felony charge, whether they are in pretrial monitoring or if they cut their monitors after they are sentenced.
SB 33: Pretrial (Bail). This bill builds on some improvements started with HB 312 in 2018, by returning to judges the discretion they had before SB 91.
It ends the practice of allowing defendants to receive credit for their future sentence by being on an electronic monitor in the community or under house arrest (third-party supervision). This loophole is how Justin Schneider escaped a prison sentence — he had worn an electronic monitor while awaiting trial, and that leash time counted toward his eventual prison sentence.
Further, SB 33 also would do away with the risk assessment tool that was implemented under SB 91, and would end the pretrial enforcement division operating as an independent department. The division is the unit that has implemented the risk assessment tool, which has allowed criminals to rotate in and out of jail repeatedly.
“The governor intends to end the ‘catch and release’ cycle in Alaska,” said Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, during today’s press conference.
SB 34: Probation and Parole. SB 34 strengthens judges’ discretion when weighing probation violations. It would change the “earned compliance credit,” given for good behavior, from a day-for-day credit to a three-for-one credit, and if offenders violate their conditions, they would be stripped of their earned compliance credit.
SB 34 also restricts some offenders, such as sex offenders, from being eligible for discretionary parole. It returns the parole system to its previous structure to ensure the parole board is not overwhelmed and those that are released on parole are good candidates for release.
Parole eligibility will once again be restricted to certain crimes to ensure those released on parole are safe to be released.
SB 35: Sex Offenses. SB 35 updates statutes by closing a loophole in the law that allowed Justin Schneider to walk free. SB 35 makes non-consensual contact with semen a felony sex offense. It increases penalties for third-degree sexual abuse of a minor, if the age difference between the offender and victim is six years or more. Viewing or production of child pornography would be a felony, and solicitation of a minor a felony in all cases.
SB 35 also updates laws on “sexting,” making it illegal to repeatedly transmit unsolicited images depicting genitalia.
While the changes do not repeal SB 91 entirely, the problematic law also has been changed significantly in legislation in 2017 and 2018 that came in response to public outcry over the “soft on crime” approach that had welcomed criminals to the state and made judges helpless in cracking down with sentences.
Dunleavy’s approach is a comprehensive approach to complete the job started in those two years to repair the trust in Alaska’s judicial system.
“There are parts of SB 91 that are worth keeping,” Attorney General Clarkson said. “For example, the increase of the penalty for murder.”