Leah Van Kirk, Southeast Alaska Pretrial Enforcement Supervisor, speaks from the new Pretrial office on Sherwood Lane on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Leah Van Kirk, Southeast Alaska Pretrial Enforcement Supervisor, speaks from the new Pretrial office on Sherwood Lane on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Pretrial enforcement looking to make long-term difference

DOC still looking to educate people on what exactly Pretrial does

Ten months into the Pretrial Enforcement Division’s existence, Leah Van Kirk is still working to inform people about exactly how the service works.

Van Kirk, the Southeast pretrial enforcement supervisor, spoke Wednesday at an event organized by the Juneau Reentry Coalition to answer questions and continue to clear up misconceptions about PED.

The program assigns officers to monitor defendants as they await trial. It’s hard for people to wrap their minds around the service, Van Kirk said, because nothing like it has existed before.

“Never before in Alaska was there someone assigned to supervise somebody’s conditions of release. … This is a huge change in Alaska right now,” Van Kirk told the group.

She said PED has a few main goals, including getting more defendants to show up for their court dates, keeping the community more safe, setting more appropriate bail amounts for defendants and reducing recidivism in the long run.

When someone is arrested, he or she is assessed by pretrial officials on whether they should await trial in or out of jail. Based on this assessment, a judge makes a ruling about whether a defendant should stay in jail or not. Allowing people to await trial outside of jail, Van Kirk has said, allows defendants to keep going to work and keep caring for their families.

Most people who are released are in the “low-risk” category, meaning there’s a low risk of them committing another crime or missing their court date.

Van Kirk showed statistics from a 2013 study into the long-term effects of pretrial programs. If a low-risk defendant is held for more than 24 hours, the study showed, that defendant is 40 percent more likely to commit a new crime before trial than if they had been held for less than 24 hours.

Van Kirk pointed out that PED officers also work closely with defendants to help them find housing or treatment if they don’t already have those kind of support systems.

“The work that we do with people initially, getting them into those services, can impact long-term behavioral change,” Van Kirk said. “Even though we might only have them for six months while they’re on Pretrial supervision, if they can address their substance abuse issues, are they less likely to reoffend? They are.”

[Pretrial enforcement showing promising signs]

Things haven’t always worked out perfectly, as evidenced by the recent escape of Buck Robert Mills. Mills escaped from PED officers in Juneau and took off his electronic monitoring device on Oct. 9. As of Thursday afternoon, Alaska State Troopers were still searching for him. Some around the state have pointed to instances like this as signs that the system is flawed, but Van Kirk said many employees in the criminal justice system have been pleased with how PED is working so far.

Derek Johnson, who works as a sergeant at Lemon Creek Correctional Center, is now the co-chair of the Juneau Reentry Coalition along with Teri Tibbett. Johnson said in an interview at Wednesday’s meeting that the process of learning someone’s conditions of release is more streamlined now because of PED.

Johnson also said the program seems to be serving defendants well, and that the less time that low-risk defendants can spend in prison the better.

“I think this is a great benefit, especially for the folks that are low- or medium-risk,” Johnson said. “I definitely agree with the idea that the longer they spend in jail, the more impact it’s going to have on their personal lives.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 15

Here’s what to expect this week.

James Whistler, 8, operates a mini excavator during Gold Rush Days on Saturday, June 17, 2023. People young and old were offered a chance to place tires around traffic cones and other challenges after getting a brief introduction to the excavator. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
There’s good reason to be extra charged up for this year’s Juneau Gold Rush Days

Digital registration for logging/mining competitors new for 32nd annual event this weekend.

Glory Hall Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk points out some of the features of the homeless shelter’s new location a few days before it opens in July of 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)
Mariya Lovishchuk stepping down after 15 years as executive director of the Glory Hall

Leader who oversaw big changes in Juneau’s homeless programs hopes to continue similar work.

Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people gather in Juneau for the opening of Celebration on June 5. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Federal judge considers lawsuit that could decide Alaska tribes’ ability to put land into trust

Arguments took place in early May, and Judge Sharon Gleason has taken the case under advisement.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, June 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, June 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Workers stand next to the Father Brown’s Cross after they reinstalled it at an overlook site on Mount Roberts on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Hugo Miramontes)
Father Brown’s Cross is resurrected on Mount Roberts after winter collapse

Five workers put landmark back into place; possibility of new cross next year being discussed.

KINY’s “prize patrol” vehicle is parked outside the Local First Media Group Inc.’s building on Wednesday morning. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Juneau radio station KINY is using AI to generate news stories — how well does it get the scoop?

As trust and economics of news industry continue long decline, use and concerns of AI are growing.

Most Read