Contributed by Representative Jim Colver
Safety concerns of my constituents and the Mat-Su Valley came to a head in October 2015. With the growing heroin/opiate problem in the Valley causing a rise in thefts, burglaries and home invasions, I could not sit quietly in the sidelines knowing that budget constraints would mandate changes in our criminal system. I organized a town hall meeting in Palmer regarding the possible closure of the Palmer Correctional Facility. It was very well attended and constituents had a chance to voice their concerns.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Public Safety answered questions and concerns the best they could. What did come from that meeting was the clear failure of DOC and the Courts to properly oversee individuals on bail who were released on electronic monitoring (EM) pending trial. We knew, at that time, something had to be done.
Senator Coghill was drafting Senate Bill (SB) 91 and I went to work offering amendments as the bill wound through the legislative process to tighten up oversight of defendants released on EM. My staff and I worked very closely with constituent, Vicki Wallner, of Stop Valley Thieves to improve the bill to make our communities and families safer.
Protection of the public is my greatest concern and I worked hard to make my amendments count! The problem of individuals cutting off their monitors and committing multiple crimes before the Court was able to re-arrest them was the basis of my amendments that would require the Department of Corrections (vs. the Court as currently done) to not only oversee pre-trial electronic monitoring but post-release as well.
The DOC will now be in charge of establishing minimum standards for offenders released pretrial under electronic monitoring, which may include the requirement of active, real-time monitoring using global positioning systems and procedures for oversight and approving electronic monitoring programs and systems provided by private contractors. They must also include a requirement for an assessment before a prisoner's release on parole, furlough, or electronic monitoring from a correctional facility.
These amendments also resulted in having a pre-trial services program woven into the bill. I worked on other provisions to tighten up the bill. For instance, I supported an amendment to reinstate jail time for first time offenders if convicted of a Class C Felony, which the bill reduced the maximum sentence to 120 days of probation.
The House spent a week passionately debating amendments to tighten up or loosen the bill before the final vote.
I adamantly argued against passage of the SB 91 which I call “Catch and Release”, because it not only fails to provide justice to victims of crime, it doesn’t deliver promised treatment for drug addicts and most importantly, it makes our communities less safe. You didn’t send me to Juneau to vote for the catch and release of criminals. More than ever, we all need to be good neighbors and keep an eye out for each other.