The Alaska judicial system successfully navigated challenges and made cost-effective justice a reality, the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court said Wednesday to a joint session of the Legislature.
Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti’s address, given annually by the top court’s top judge, gives an opportunity to examine both the challenges facing the Alaska judicial branch and the successes resulting from the commitment all Alaskans share to improving the administration of justice in the state.
“From where I stand I believe that our mutual commitment to a justice system that is fair, efficient, and effective is stronger than ever,” he said.
Reforms, including an online court system, have allowed ways to minimize costs and delays by allowing people to pay fines and access court records from home.
Carpeneti also mentioned a server based in the Department of Law would allow law enforcement agencies to provide attorneys with discovery electronically, reducing chronic case delays and reducing demand on clerical staff and the likelihood of discovery conflicts.
“Internet access for law enforcement and Alaskan citizens is important,” Carpeneti said. “Small steps matter.”
He also praised a pilot program in Kenai for reducing sentencing time significantly and an Anchorage program as a model for supervising probation cases. Both could be implemented statewide, he said.
Also impressive to Carpeneti was the recent Success Inside And Out program at Lemon Creek Correctional Center. He said programs by the Department of Corrections for preventing crime and lowering recidivism are important.
“This is tough work,” Carpeneti said. “The committee’s work is set against a sobering back drop.”
Carpeneti cited three facts the state, and the nation, must address: One is that incarceration rates in America are among the highest in the world and incarceration rates in Alaska are among the highest in the United States. The second is an unprecedented rate of recidivism that hovers at just about two-thirds both nationally and in Alaska. Third, rapidly growing costs for jail and prison expansion show no signs of abating.
Carpeneti expressed his belief continued agency cooperation will dramatically drop the rate of offenders returning to prison.
“Obviously these things have occupied public officials and researchers for some time and warrant far more attention than I can touch on today,” Carpeneti said. “I think that the good news is that there are promising new approaches to criminal justice that are achieving goals once thought impossible. Today we are learning that jails and long jail terms, the most expensive tools in our corrections tool kit, can be focused on those offenders for whom other mechanisms to ensure public safety and accountability won’t work.”
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