PROGRESS: Crime is going down and vilified SB 91 deserves some of the credit

The wave of crime afflicting Southcentral Alaska may be showing signs of leveling off. Some types of property crime, like car theft, are even dropping, according to Anchorage police statistics.

This may be one result of beefed-up law enforcement, with more police on the streets in Anchorage and more prosecutors hired by the state. But it also appears that a sweeping — and controversial — criminal justice reform bill passed by the Legislature in 2016 is at least partly working, criminal justice experts say.

Doshier, Kendra

The legislation was Senate Bill 91, which performed a major overhaul of sentencing and probation for a variety of crimes. It toughened some sentences for major crimes and eased penalties for minor offenses.

The bill also appropriated substantial funds for drug counseling and rehabilitation, as well as with programs to help released inmates readjust to society and finding places to live and work. Those parts of SB 91 seem to be working.

One telling statistic is that the rate of recidivism, or released inmates being returned to prison for new offenses, is trending down. Over the last three years, during which SB 91 has been in effect, recidivism has dropped from 67 percent to 61 percent, according to state corrections officials.

Two other trends that are encouraging is a decrease in auto theft in Anchorage in 2018 compared with 2017, of about 5 percent. While that is a small change, it follows three years of rising car thefts. There was also a sharp, 40 percent decline in the number of opioid overdose deaths in Alaska 2018, compared with 2017, down from 100 to 58.

Car thefts and opioid deaths are important indicators. Opioid overdoses broadly reflect the amount of drugs being consumed while car thefts are the easy-to-commit crimes of choice for drug addicts looking for a quick way to make money for a new purchase.

The fact that both are trending down in 2018 could show an easing of the drug epidemic, which is seen as the main cause of the crime wave, particularly property crimes, like auto theft.

SB 91 still gets most of the blame for crime and for politicians “Repeal SB 91” fits neatly on a bumper sticker. The new law went into effect in 2017, just as the crime wave was hitting its peak. Parts of SB 91 that eased sentences and probation rules were heavily criticized and blamed for causing, or at least fueling, the crime wave.

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