OPINION: Answers to your questions about public safety

Rep. Justin Parish

Published November 12th, 2017 – Juneau Empire

Why has crime increased in Alaska?

Three of the biggest drivers are the opioid epidemic, the ongoing recession and multiple years of cuts to law enforcement (both on the street and in the courtroom). How much is because of each of those, and how much is because of state policy, I just don’t know. As far as I’ve seen, no one can say for sure.

I wasn’t here when the Senate Bill 91 passed, I didn’t vote for it and feel no responsibility to “defend” it. However, I am responsible to you, and it is my job to support the policies that will keep you safe and your possessions secure. The best way to do that is to fund criminal justice agencies, to stabilize the economy and to invest in prevention.

Is SB 91 responsible?

The easy way out is to blame SB 91. Blame is easy; solutions are hard. SB 91 made major changes to Alaska’s overburdened criminal justice system. For instance, it calls for a pre-trial division with additional uniformed officers and, if evidence is any guide, a reduction in crime, but that won’t be fully place until January. SB 91 also had some serious problems, particularly around repeated theft. From my conversations with our police officers, community members, and other legal professionals, I am convinced ongoing reform will fix those problems. I will continue to work to improve criminal law.

Why have hundreds of positions been cut from Alaska criminal justice agencies?

The previous House Majority and current Senate Majority decided that we couldn’t afford those law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and criminal justice professionals, even as crime rates rose across the state.

Cuts to state support of municipalities also hurt local police forces. As just one example, Juneau’s police chief told me that for the first time the state is refusing to pay for academy training for new recruits.

It is a betrayal of trust to stretch our police, troopers and correctional officers to the breaking point. It keeps them from getting to every call and it makes everyone’s lives harder. The Department of Law has repeatedly testified that they had to drop thousands of cases a year due to lack of staff. Some of those cases were felonies. Justice is a fundamental responsibility of government. Our officers and legal staff deserve the support they need to treat cases fairly and decisively, from start to finish.

Short-changing public safety comes with a cost. In this case, that cost is an increase in crime.

Why did only a quarter of the “savings” from Criminal Justice Reform go to programs meant to replace prisons?

Corner-cutters in the Legislature said we couldn’t afford to pay for programs, even programs proved to save a dollar for every dime that we put in! I would rather spend our money giving 10 people job training and treatment than the same amount to send one person to prison to learn to be a better crook. Two of every three people released from prison are back in the jail in just three years, leaving new victims on the outside. The probation officers who are supposed to help prevent that are overworked and underfunded too.

Some people do need to be locked up. Continuing reform and the new pre-trial officers will help with that. But for rest, let’s get the most bang for our buck by investing in proven programs.

How can we improve public safety and reduce the drag crime is imposing on our society?

Fund law enforcement on the streets and in the courts.

Invest in proven prevention and recidivism reduction options, from school activities, to job training, to serious substance abuse treatment.

Fix the economy. Unemployment in Alaska has been climbing for years. We need a fiscal plan to give our law enforcement, our citizens, and our businesses confidence and stability. People with good jobs and stable communities are a lot less likely to turn to substance abuse and crime.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But even a pound of cure costs less than being sick.

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