SB91 is shorthand for Senate Bill 91, which was signed into law by Gov. Bill Walker on July 11, 2016. This bill was more than 120 pages in length, and heavily used data and research from the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission and Pew Charitable Trusts. This bill was created as a direct response to the Alaska prison population, which has decreased about 7% since SB 91 has started taking effect. Because this bill focuses on crime and punishment, this is something that directly affect public safety in Alaska and should concern every citizen. On one side of the argument, it is believed that SB 91 is contributing to the crime wave affecting Anchorage and the Matsu borough. Others, believe the law is to new and needs a chance to work. Tara Rich, legal and policy director of ACLU Alaska said the group will be monitoring the implantation of SB 91 to ensure it is done legally without bias.
SB 91 reduced or took away jail as a penalty for common crimes such as shoplifting. The cost of bail for first time offenders has been set at a flat $500, to make releasing offenders on bail financially reasonable for the individuals. Parole and probation times have also been shortened due to SB 91. The bill is supposed to help the new pretrial services officers decided whether or not defendants will show for trial if released on bail, and if defendants would pose a risk to the community if released on bail. The goal was to have more prison beds available for violent offenders and to save money by not housing low risk defendants.
Another concern of SB 91 is how many unsentenced men and women are held behind bars awaiting trial. As of last Friday, 2,231 individuals were waiting for their trial. With a cost of $42 a day to house a prisoner, one day has a cost of $93,702 for just those who are unsentenced. It’s understandable that the high cost of incarceration is a concern for the makers of SB 91. It was estimated that between July 2016 to July 2018, SB 91 would save a total for $21 million for the Department of Corrections.
The money saved has largely gone to existing programs, with $17 million being spend on administrative costs. One new administrative cost to keep in mind with the introduction of this bill, is the salaries of the 60 new pretrial officers. The states new pretrial officers are trained and charged with monitoring defendants released before trial. Their jobs are to assess the risk of detainees being released on bail. If it is decided that there isn’t a significant risk to the general population, detainees will be released.
However, there may be a risk to the general population in doing this. Since the passage of SB 91, Alaska went form being the 25th in the country in burglary to the 14th. These statistics are according from data collected by the FBI. In property crime, we moved from the 17th to the 3rd. Alaska is in the top 15 in every category of crime, for the first time in history. It is argued that crime has been increasing for years and that SB 91 is not at fault.
One very concerning aspect of SB 91 is how it affects first time offenders, and in particular sex offenders. Picture someone who commits a crime such as luring an underage child, fondling them, and convincing the child to touch the offenders genitals. Someone who commits that example of sexual abuse of a minor, would not be sentenced to any jail time. This is directly caused by the implementation of SB 91. At a minimum, these loopholes need to be amended.