Criminal justice overhaul costs, savings unclear

JUNEAU — A bill to overhaul the criminal justice system advanced in the Alaska Senate on Tuesday, though questions remain about how much money it will save the state.

A legislative fiscal analyst said estimates of savings to the Department of Corrections are speculative and rely on assumptions.

Sponsor Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, modeled the bill after a Justice Reinvestment Report commissioned by the legislature and released in 2015. That report estimated $424 million in savings, primarily through reducing the prison population by 21 percent by 2024.

State Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, quizzed Legislative Finance Division fiscal analyst Kelly Cunningham over savings estimates during his committee’s final hearing on the bill.

The department projected that it would need more than $3.6 million in its fiscal year 2017 budget request to deal with changes in sentencing, probation, parole and bail statutes, according to a fiscal note it attached to the bill. The department estimated that a new pretrial services program outlined in the bill will require up to 125 new positions, including probation officers.

The department also, however, projected reducing the prison population by more than 1,300 inmates by fiscal year 2017, saving more than $25 million.

Cunningham said it is difficult to calculate a specific amount of money saved through keeping people out of jail or holding fewer hearings. “I think it’s rather speculative at this point,” Cunningham told the committee.

The state’s Department of Health and Social Services also attached several fiscal projections to the bill including one that estimated $41,000 a year in savings from removing drug felons from public assistance programs, like day care assistance, or Alaska’s food stamps program, if they fail or refuse to take drug tests.

Despite questions about the finances behind the bill, representatives from the state departments of Law, Public Safety and Corrections said they supported the bill and would continue to work with Coghill to amend the bill as it continues to move through the committee process.

Before he moved the bill on to the next committee, Stoltze said he was concerned that emptying the state’s jails could have a negative effect on Alaskans.

“For all the good of a fair, smarter system, there are going to be people that are going to be released that are a danger. You can’t release that many people and not have that be the case,” Stoltze said.

The bill is scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Wednesday.

More in News

From right, Soldotna City Council members Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, Dan Nelson and Jordan Chilson listen to testimony during a council meeting on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Council to mull limits on use of Soldotna ADUs as short-term rentals

Accessory dwelling units refer to subordinate, detached units

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Wildlife Troopers and CES rescue hunter missing for 12 hours

State troopers were notified around 6 p.m. Wednesday that the hunter hadn’t returned

The Alaska State Capitol awaits a legislators forming new majority coalitions and the return of Gov. Mike Dunleavy after the winners of the general election were announced Wednesday. The Senate will have a 17-member bipartisan ruling coalition, while the House arrangement remains uncertain due to at least one likely recount and questions about partisan alignments. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Bipartisan majority formed for new state Senate

Eight Republicans join nine Democrats after many years of Republican rule

Dr. Michael Reyes manipulates ROSA during a demonstration at Central Peninsula Hospital on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Knee surgeries get assist from robot arms

Robotic Surgical Assistant, called ROSA, is a new addition to CPH and the first in Alaska

During a hearing at the Juneau Courthouse, 34-year-old Anthony Michael Migliaccio pleaded not guilty after he was arrested on a first-degree murder charge in the killing of a 55-year-old Juneau woman. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Man arrested in Juneau killing pleads not guilty

News follows a two-month investigation.

Kenai Finance Director Terry Eubank presents during a budget work session on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai tries again to fill city manager position

After 1st round of negotiations fall through, Kenai to pursue Eubank for role

Soldotna Montessori Charter School kindergartners parade with balloons around the school playground on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Balloons on parade

Montessori kids put spin on traditional Macy’s parade

Most Read