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

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Soldotna man dead after Nikiski collision

The Kenai Spur Highway was closed for around four hours.

Copies of the Peninsula Clarion are photographed on Friday, June 21, 2024. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Announcing a new Peninsula Clarion print schedule

Our last Wednesday edition will be delivered June 26.

A bucket of recently caught sockeye salmon rests on the sand while anglers seek to fill it further at the mouth of the Kasilof River on Monday, June 26, 2023, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Dipnetting in Kasilof opens Tuesday

Dipnetting will be allowed at all times until Aug. 7

The Kasilof River is seen from the Kasilof River Recreation Area, July 30, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Fish and Game restricts bait on Kasilof, Ninilchik Rivers

The use of bait on the rivers will begin Friday and extend to July 15 in Ninilchik, July 31 in Kasilof

A man fishes in the Kenai River on July 16, 2018, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/file)
Slow sockeye fishing on Kenai, Russian Rivers

Northern Kenai Fishing Report for June 20

Alaska Department of Fish and Game logo. (Graphic by Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Bag limits doubled for sockeye salmon in Resurrection Bay

The increase is effective from June 21 to July 31

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Girl Scout Troop 210, which includes Caitlyn Eskelin, Emma Hindman, Kadie Newkirk and Lyberty Stockman, present their “Bucket Trees” to a panel of judges in the 34th Annual Caring for the Kenai Competition at Kenai Central High School on Thursday, April 18.
Caring for the Kenai winners receive EPA award

Winning team of the 34th annual Caring for the Kenai was selected for the President’s Environmental Youth Award

Most Read