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Senate committee advances crime bill

Proposal giving leniency to juveniles is withdrawn

Posted: February 14, 2014 - 12:07am

JUNEAU — The Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a sweeping crime bill.

The move came after the withdrawal of a proposed amendment to give juveniles charged with a felony a means of staying out of the adult prison population. The amendment from Republican Sen. Fred Dyson was an attempt to keep teenage offenders out of adult population through a judicial review process.

“Suppose a young boy listens to his mother being beaten up one more time and he shoots the guy. The argument of defense doesn’t apply,” Dyson said.

Former Rep. Ralph Samuels testified against the amendment, describing how his brother was murdered execution style in 1989 by a juvenile.

“If this amendment is placed in, then this bill is not going to pass,” Samuels told the committee. He said that testimony on the amendment should include victims of the type of crimes in question based on the Alaska Constitution’s Victims’ Rights amendment.

The Department of Law also urged lawmakers to reject the amendment, prompting Dyson to say they had no alternatives of their own for addressing juvenile offenders and the rising prison population.

“I don’t mean this to be personal, but the Department of Law are not picking up on these issues we are facing today,” Dyson said. “It’s on the edge of irresponsibility.”

He said more than 60 percent of Alaska’s prison population is there for non-violent offenses. He told the committee at the present rate of incarceration, Alaska will be building another prison in a few years.

The omnibus bill raised a class C felony threshold for crime-related damages from $500 to $750, proposes a sobriety program for offenses involving alcohol or drugs that requires testing and consequences administered within 24 hours, a fund to assist newly released inmates to prevent re-entry into the criminal justice system and credit for going through rehabilitation programs to count as part of an incarceration sentence.

Much of the crime bill is copied from South Dakota’s 24/7 sobriety program.

“I figured we could jail our way out of our problem but I learned I was wrong,” said Col. Tom Butler, head of the Montana State Troopers, when giving testimony for the success of the South Dakota program. “There is a sub set of society that cannot handle alcohol and this brings some order to the chaos.”

The bill now goes before the Senate Finance Committee.

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