Alaska's Justice Reforms Are Working, and the news in criminal justice this week

“The changes to the law were intended not just to reduce the prison population, but also to change the composition of the prison population so that state resources would be spent wisely…”

In their annual report, the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission found the state is making progress on prioritizing prison beds for serious and violent offenders, curbing corrections costs, improving opportunities for rehabilitation and addiction treatment, and reinvesting resources in recidivism reduction and crime prevention. The commission also found that more people were being released on bail or on their own recognizance, while attendance at court hearings held steady at 87%. Reform critics have pointed to increases in some property and violent crimes, but the report’s authors noted that crime rates began increasing in 2014 and 2015, before reforms were implemented.

“We have shown the nation that the people they are used to seeing fight against each other will come together for the common cause of freedom. That we will fight side by side for the liberty of our neighbors.”

Louisiana voters approved an amendment to require unanimous jury verdicts for felony convictions, with an overwhelming 64-36 margin. The amendment was supported by a broad bipartisan coalition, including both the Democratic and Republican state parties, the NAACP of Louisiana, the Louisiana Family Forum, and District Attorneys from Baton Rouge, Caddo Parish, Lafayette and Jefferson Parish. The measure will take effect on January 1, 2019, leaving Oregon as the only state that still allows non-unanimous felony convictions.

“It’s a good sign that our state system and elected representatives actually sometimes listen.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections revised its policy on book donationsafter criticism from donation groups and the families and friends of people who are incarcerated. As part of the heightened security measures instituted this summer, the DOC limited book orders to a catalog of 8,500 high-priced e-books. Under the new policy, books can be ordered directly from publishers and bookstores, and will be screened at a secure processing center before being sent to correctional facilities. In a release announcing the policy change, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said they had listened to the public and developed “a fair procedure that balances our need for security with the inmates’ access to books.”

“Those who oppose adding any sentencing reform to the First Step Act are stuck in the 1980s and are completely ignoring criminal justice reform successes at the state level.”

In The Hill, FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye urged members of congress to include sentencing reforms in the Senate version of the FIRST STEP Act, expected to be introduced next week. Pye noted that the proposed reforms were modest in scope, and aimed at applying common sense to federal sentencing laws. These “smart on crime” reforms coordinate with President Trump’s desire to be tough on crime, Pye argued, as they ensure “the right crimes are addressed with the right penalties.”

“The only way we can claw kids back is when the judge has discretion...”

In Idaho, teens accused of one of nine crimes, including distributing drugs within 1000 feet of a school, are automatically charged as adults. The state has had an “automatic waiver” provision on the books since 1981 and expanded the list of applicable crimes in the 1990s. The Idaho Department of Correction holds 24 adults who began their sentence as minors, and 11 minors currently in the juvenile system are set to enter the adult system in the coming years based on their sentence. Since 2005, 36 states have passed laws aimed at keeping juveniles out of adult courts, including methods of providing more individual review before sending juveniles to adult court.