Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s call for a “war on criminals” in Tuesday night’s State of the State address sparked conversation at Wednesday’s Native Issues Forum, which highlights issues in the Alaska Native community.
“If we want to address crime, let’s address crime,” Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, said to a person in the audience who said Alaska Natives are disproportionately incarcerated at higher rates than the general population, and questioned what this would mean to them. “But to declare war on people, I think takes Alaska in a very dangerous direction. The approaches that we think of when people talk about ‘war on criminals’ don’t save us any money.”
Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, also a featured speaker at the forum, alongside Kiehl and Rep. Andi Story of Juneau, told the Empire she did not find the term “war on criminals” appropriate. She also questioned how Dunleavy can afford such a measure while also balancing the budget.
“It is an interesting dichotomy for me to hear the governor talk about saving money without understanding that the most expensive thing in a society you can do is put people in prison,” said Hannan during the forum to an applause from the crowd. About 100 people attended the forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.
Hannan said she doesn’t want to dismiss Dunleavy’s goal on public safety, but said prevention and education could be more beneficial than just adding more state troopers or village public safety officers.
“Public safety is a 24-hour day, and the law enforcement piece is a couple hours of that day,” she said, using metaphor to describe the issue. “Most of the day is before that, and the cost afterward of what are you doing with someone once they’re in the system, because if you don’t do anything different when they exit the system from incarceration, the crime pattern repeats.”
Story said the delegation will be examining the crime bills the governor introduced Wednesday to ensure reentry programs are available, and that bail prices are more based on risk-factor than money.
Juneau’s legislative delegation outlined their priorities, answered questions from the public, and talked education, fishing, the budget, keeping Juneau as the capital and the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Kiehl said he would like to work with the attorney general on making use of the tribal courts system and blending them when possible. He also spoke in opposition of a bill filed that proposes moving the capital to Anchorage.
Hannan was firm on not cutting any money from the education budget, and making sure that the ferry system stays works, not just for tourists or profit, but to keep remote villages connected.
Story also said she wants to preserve the $30 million set aside for education in former Gov. Bill Walker’s budget, and work on revitalizing Alaska Native languages as part of the “linguistic emergency” declared in House Concurrent Resolution 19 last year.
Other concerns from the crowd were if Alaska should switch to rank voting, like the system used in Maine, and what the legislators plan to do to sustain long-term herring harvest in Southeast Alaska.
• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2228.