This page was updated on July 12, 2016, to address new laws passed in Alaska.
In July 2016, Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed into law a comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms, putting his state at the forefront of research-driven policies designed to protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs. Senate Bill 91 is intended to avoid a projected 27 percent rise in Alaska’s prison population by 2024, and instead reduce it by 13 percent. The reforms also are estimated to cut prison costs by $380 million over that span and free up $98 million for investment into recidivism-reduction programs, pretrial supervision, violence prevention programs, and victim services.
The new law is based on policy recommendations from the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, which engaged in a six-month study of the state’s pretrial, sentencing, and corrections practices. With technical assistance from Pew as part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, the commission analyzed data, evaluated policies in other states, reviewed research on what works to reduce recidivism, and developed a comprehensive set of statutory and budgetary proposals.
The commission found that Alaska’s unified jail and prison population had grown by 27 percent over the past decade, nearly three times faster than the state’s resident population. Annual state spending on corrections topped $300 million in 2014, up 60 percent over the past 20 years. Despite this growth, the commission determined that Alaskans had not been getting a sufficient public safety return on their investments: Nearly 2 in 3 inmates who left state prisons returned within three years.
"I am confident that we can find ways to make our communities safer and cut the growing cost of our corrections system." —Governor Bill Walker
The reform effort followed an initial round of policy changes in 2014 when the state enacted S.B. 64, which increased the monetary threshold for felony theft offenses from $500 to $1,000 to prioritize prison space for higher-level offenders.