News-Miner opinion: Getting tough on crime. It’s a tired old phrase that oversimplifies a complex problem.
But getting tough on crime is exactly what Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Legislature are doing — and should be doing. Alaskans have been widely frustrated with the result of Senate Bill 91, the crime “reform” legislation of 2016 that made significant changes to the state’s crime laws in an effort to reduce the prison population and thereby save money.
The result of SB 91? Higher crime rates.
Penalties were reduced. Judges were further limited in the length of sentences they could impose. Violating terms of probation didn’t carry as much of a penalty. The list of problems goes on.
Gov. Dunleavy made crime fighting one of his campaign issues last year. And amid all of his proposed budget reductions, law enforcement was one of the few areas in which he proposed increased spending.
He sent four bills to the Legislature for consideration and remains insistent on their passage, whether individually or as part of wide-ranging crime legislation. The bills deal with four subject areas:
• Sex-related crimes. Proposals included a common-sense requirement that a person who must register as a sex offender in another state must also register as a sex offender in Alaska upon moving to our state.
• Sentencing. SB 91 reduced the sentencing ranges for numerous felony and misdemeanor crimes. The governor’s bill increases the ranges and also increases the maximum allowable probation periods.
• Bail. The governor proposes giving judges discretion on how to handle pre-trial release of a person accused of a crime. His legislation also would prevent pre-trial electronic monitoring from being used as credit to post-conviction jail time.
• Probation. The governor’s sweeping changes to probation and parole include eliminating the limit on the amount of jail time a judge can impose on a probation violator.
Gov. Dunleavy’s proposals are far more encompassing than mentioned here. And with good reason. SB 91, while admirable in its aim of reducing the prison population and saving money, hasn’t worked out well.
The Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police, in a lengthy March 20 letter in support of the governor’s crime bills, noted the frustration in and out of the law enforcement system with the 2016 crime reform law:
“The effect: police continue to respond to solve the immediate problem and protect the community; prosecutors work to manage increasing caseloads with scarce resources and ineffective sentencing guidelines; and correctional facilities continue to process offenders then release them, only to see them repeatedly come back through the door,” states the letter signed by now-retired Fairbanks Police Chief Eric Jewkes, who was head of the association at the time.
“It has become a frenetic cycle which cannot continue without exhausting the public’s patience, resources and further degrading public safety,” the letter notes.
Senate Bill 91 clearly didn’t work. Alaskans are upset with the crime it unleashed. Now Gov. Dunleavy and the Legislature are working quickly to restore the force in law enforcement.
Getting tough on crime. It’s an old phrase, indeed. But it’s certainly a welcome one right now.