Metro Creative Connection stock image

Metro Creative Connection stock image

Crime rates can’t be linked to SB 91

On July 31, the Juneau Empire posted an opinion piece by Dan Carothers criticizing Alaska’s justice reforms. First off, I want to thank Mr. Carothers for sharing his opinion. As you might imagine, we at the ACLU of Alaska are big supporters of free speech and love it when our fellow Alaskans exercise that right on public policy issues.

Unfortunately, Mr. Carothers’ piece was so full of misleading statistics and half-truths that we feel compelled to exercise our free speech rights in response. As we are fond of saying, “The cure for bad speech isn’t more government regulation, it’s more good speech.”

The main point of Mr. Carothers’ piece seemed to be that Alaska’s justice reforms, commonly referred to as Senate Bill 91, have caused increases in crime and thus should be repealed. The facts, however, show several problems with his assertion.

First, justice reform wasn’t signed into law until July 11, 2016 and only went fully into effect on Jan. 1 of this year. There simply hasn’t been enough time for crime statistics to show what impact, if any, justice reform has had. Mr. Carothers cites the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) — a quality source of crime stats — but doesn’t tell you that the last year for which these numbers are available is 2016, the same year justice reform was passed and covered a period well before those policies went into effect.

Mr. Carothers would love for you to believe all the rising crime numbers he offers are due to policies that hadn’t passed yet, which leads to his second error. Alaska’s troubling crime stats, of which there are many, were bad and rising well before justice reform. Most of us who have lived in Alaska for decades know this quite well.

In 2015, the year before reform passed, Alaska’s crime rate was 21 percent above the national average and almost all categories of crime have been on the rise for years. According to the 2016 UCR, burglary and assault have been rising since 2013, vehicle thefts since 2011, murder since 2009, and robbery has been going up since 2004. And worst of all, prior to reform Alaska had a 66 percent recidivism rate. That means of the approximately 12,000 people released back into Alaska’s communities each year by the Department of Corrections, 8,000 of them would soon be right back in prison.

Is locking more people up and for longer the solution? Well, Alaska tried that. Alaska’s prisoner population grew 27 percent in the decade before reform was passed, three times faster than its resident population, yet crime rates continued to rise.

Are you feeling any safer?

The truth is justice reform was a response to these disturbing numbers, not the cause of them.

The focus of that reform was not to save money or release people back into the community, as Mr. Carothers asserts. It was to achieve better public safety outcomes. It was primarily to reduce Alaska’s horrible recidivism rate because the truth is the overwhelming majority of prisoners will be let out at some point.

If we can just bring recidivism down from 66 percent to 33 percent — a very achievable goal — 4,000 more Alaskans each year will be out of prison leading productive lives rather than reoffending. That means thousands and thousands of Alaskans would never be the victims of the crimes they would otherwise commit.

I think we can all agree that forging a safer Alaska should be the goal. The fact that this by definition would mean that fewer crimes are committed, and therefore fewer of our friends, family members, and neighbors are in costly prison should be seen as a sign of ultimate success, not the doomsday scenario Mr. Carothers envisions.

Our previous system wasn’t getting us any closer to the safer, more prosperous Alaska we all want to see. Why in the world would we want to go back to it?

It is time to give justice reform time to work and judge it a success or failure only when real data shows which it is.

Please visit SmartJusticeAlaska.com for more information on Alaska’s justice reforms.


• Casey Reynolds is the Communications Director for the ACLU of Alaska. He has lived in Alaska since 1989 and is a proud graduate of Bartlett High School and the University of Alaska.


More in Opinion

Dick Farnell, right, and Suzanne Cohen of environmental group 350Juneau hold signs outside the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation building during APFC’s Board of Directors quarterly meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
“A tsunami looms across the horizon. That tsunami is the climate crisis.”

“Our leaders remind me of children building a sand castle on the beach.”

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Someone holds up an inflatable Alaska Marine Highway ferry at at a rally to support of the Alaska Marine Highway System on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Reshaping coastal Alaska transportation

The focus of the Alaska Marine Highway System Reshaping Work Group was too narrow

Capitol
Opinion: Censuring acts of conscience is un-American

It’s only with dignity and respect for one another that we can work through our disagreements…

teease
Opinion: Alaska Legislature goes virtual

Alaskans can be confident the public will still be able to visit and observe their Legislature.

teese
Opinion: It’s time to revisit the Fairness Doctrine

After much vulgar brutalization, it’s time to reinvigorate the principles of the Fairness Doctrine…

teeze
Opinion: Perhaps new leaders will make America gracious again

Perhaps the new administration will guide the path to making America more gracious again.

Judy Cavanaugh stands with others at a rally against the Pebble Mine in front of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Juneau office on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The environment isn’t the only reason to say no to Pebble Mine

We residents of the Owner State own the copper and gold in… Continue reading

Teez
Opinion: A fuel monopoly would be bad for Southeast

Garrett Johnson The acquiring of Crowley Fuels by Petro Marine is major… Continue reading

Most Read