Last month, Gov. Bill Walker spoke in support of Senate Bill 54, which would increase the penalties for some minor crimes. On Monday night, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly did the same.
By a unanimous vote, the Assembly voted to draft a letter to the Juneau State Legislative Delegation and Juneau’s lobbyist in support of SB 54, which would roll back some parts of SB 91. SB 91 is slowly going into effect after being passed in 2016, aiming to reduce the number of incarcerated people in Alaska.
City Attorney Amy Mead outlined the positives that SB 54 would have in Juneau, saying primarily that it would change the time limits on some crimes.
“The way the courts were reading SB 91, it capped a first and second offense for a misdemeanor at 30 days,” Mead explained. “Where we ran into problems was primarily with DUI conviction.”
Prior to SB 91, Mead said, those convicted of a second DUI would face a “significant amount of suspended time in addition to time served,” but SB 91 put a cap of 30 days on penalties for DUI. SB 54 would allow for a maximum of 60 days for a person’s second DUI conviction, Mead said.
In larceny-related cases, Mead said, SB 54 allows courts to impose suspended time for the first and second offense, as well as probation and even a short amount of jail time that SB 91 did not.
Assembly member Jerry Nankervis — whom the other members re-elected as deputy mayor Monday — made the motion for the Assembly to draft the letter.
“I’ve been convinced for a while,” Nankervis said. “I think we need to support SB 54.”
Don Habeger, the community coordinator for the Juneau Reentry Coalition, was the sole member of the public to weigh in on the subject at Monday’s meeting. He reminded the Assembly members that SB 91 is based on evidence from endeavors in other states, and that there are benefits down the line.
“A large part of the solutions, at least from the coalition’s perspective, is investment in community services,” he said. “When SB 91 is implemented in all its forms and we realize savings from correction dollars, some of those savings can be invested back into the community for such things as additional housing or substance abuse treatment.”
Mead acknowledged that SB 91 was evidence-based, but that there have been unforeseen problems with the way the bill has taken effect in Alaska. Some people have been racking up as many as 10 or 15 open cases at once due to being quickly released after being arrested without going through a full legal process.
Another important part of SB 91 that Assembly members want to remain intact is the efforts of the Pretrial Enforcement Division. This program, which is set to start in January, helps to monitor and assess defendants while they await trial instead of having them incarcerated.
Mead said she recently talked with Leah Van Kirk, the Pretrial Supervisor for the Southeast Region, about the future of the program in Juneau. Mead said she thinks the assessment tool and program as a whole are good ideas that are key to the future of enforcement in Alaska.
Assembly member Loren Jones requested that there be a mention in the letter to legislators that the Assembly is still in favor of pretrial services, and Mead concurred.
Overall, Mead said, there isn’t anything wildly different that stems from SB 54, but that it would clean up some of the flaws that have appeared with changes from SB 91.
“It’s not a lot of big changes that SB 54 does,” Mead said. “I would call it minor course correction.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Mead spoke with Geri Fox, the state director of the Pretrial Enforcement Division. Mead spoke with Leah Van Kirk, the Pretrial Supervisor for the Southeast Region. The Empire regrets this error.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com.