Deputy attorney general says SB91 repeal would be ‘dangerous’

Alaska Deputy Attorney General Robert Henderson speaks to reporters at a press availability on Sept. 15 in Anchorage, as Gov. Bill Walker watches. Henderson said Monday that repealing Senate Bill 91 would be “dangerous.” (Photo by Daniel Hernandez/Alaska Public Media)

One the state’s top prosecutors said repealing the entire law that overhauled criminal justice last year is the wrong move.

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“A full repeal of SB 91 is dangerous,” Deputy Attorney General Robert Henderson said in a House Judiciary Committee meeting Monday at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office.

Some Alaska lawmakers said they want to repeal last year’s Senate Bill 91, which allowed some low-risk offenders to avoid jail time. Lawmakers including Eagle River Republican Rep. Lora Reinbold. She cited the number of thefts in Anchorage.

“They’re calling it GTA — grand theft Anchorage — right now,” Reinbold said. “It’s outrageous, what’s going on in the city that I love.”

This year’s Senate Bill 54 is scheduled for legislative debate next week. It would scale back SB 91. Last year’s law was based on research that said that longer jail terms are no more effective than actively monitoring offenders outside of jail. In some cases, longer sentences may actually increase the risk of repeat offenses.

Henderson noted that last year’s law hasn’t been fully implemented. The provisions of the law that haven’t gone into effect allow for increased supervision of people who have been arrested before they have trials. Those provisions are effective on Jan. 1.

Capt. Sean Case is Anchorage’s acting deputy police chief. He said the city’s police department fully supports the Legislature passing Senate Bill 54.

Case said police officers have years of experience putting offenders in jail.

“And when the rules are changed, that creates some disenfranchisement. And we’re seeing that,” Case said as a member of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, which advises the Legislature. “But I’ll also say that I don’t think that means that the traditional model of policing or criminal justice in the state of Alaska has to remain the same.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Matt Claman said he held the meeting to give Anchorage residents a chance to hear information about Senate Bill 54 in person. The committee is one of three that would have to pass the bill before the full House can vote on it. The Senate has already passed it.

Gov. Bill Walker put Senate Bill 54 on his call for the special session that begins Oct. 23. The bill would increase the minimum penalty for first-time class C felonies from up to 18 months of suspended sentences to up to one year in jail. Another change would increase the penalty for thefts of goods valued at less than $250. And a third change would increase the penalty for people who violate their conditions of release.

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at