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A truly effective crime bill is only one part of the package.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has started what’s been described as a “war on criminals.”
In Alaska, most of the criminals are Alaskans. Not only Alaskans at the lowest socio economic levels, but at all levels. Crime permeates Alaska’s society.
One example is the opioid crisis. In most cases, it isn’t the street people abusing opioids. Their substance of choice is alcohol; as a group, they cannot afford opioids. That means it’s the Alaskans who can afford opioids or Alaskans who steal and sell or trade ill-gotten items for opioids who are in a position to abuse opioids.
Alaska headlines for the past five years or so herald rising crime. The topic created such a public outcry that Dunleavy made a campaign promise during the 2016 gubernatorial election to address the issue.
The challenge is that Dunleavy also promised to eliminate a $1.6 billion state budget deficit. To keep that promise, deep cuts will be made.
But Dunleavy’s proposed crime bills are expected to cost the state at least another $43 million a year. An increase in that amount would require a decrease elsewhere in the budget to adhere to the deficit promise.
Senate Bill 91 is the governor’s immediate target. He’s proposed three bills to repeal portions of the 2016 crime reform bill. A fourth bill tightens Alaska’s sexual crimes laws.
SB91 had the effect of allowing more Alaskans who had been apprehended for nonviolent crimes to be dealt with outside of jail. To repeal SB91, which the collective voice of Alaskans says has resulted in increased crime, means more Alaskans being jail.
That’s appropriate for some offenders, especially murderers and perpetrators of other violent crime. Some offenders should be in jail.
But, others should be receiving help to break addictions, to change behavior, to get back on a law-abiding track and to stay on it.
It’s the only way to bring down costs to the state. Without changes in those areas, the number of incarcerated will rise year after year. The cost of incarceration will increase in tandem. The situation would be a drag on Alaska’s finances, its labor force, Alaskans and Alaska families. Jailed Alaskans can’t become contributors to the economy.
As noted earlier, the people being incarcerated are Alaskans. Our family members, our friends, our neighbors, people we know.
We shouldn’t just put them in jail and throw away the key. There, but for the grace of God, go any number of us.
It isn’t easy to give people a hand up. It takes a while for some to even want it. Some never will and likely will be in jail all too much. But, if we don’t do what will be difficult and slow — heal Alaskans who are in crisis — then more Alaskans will join them. The disease of crime will spread and grow.
And it’s clearly agreed that Alaska has enough crime, enough spending. It’s had enough.
Ultimately, Alaska wants to be in a better place — in terms of the state budget, with the Alaska economy, in neighborhoods and for Alaskans. That’s Dunleavy’s mission.
He can’t carry it out alone. He can’t do it with only one arrow in the quiver.
Crime bills, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation together are the full package. One doesn’t succeed for all Alaskans without the others.