‘Justice shouldn’t create more victims’: Former prisoners preach patience for SB 91

While much of the public conversation about criminal reform measure Senate Bill 91 comes from politicians, a talk Saturday night featured a different demographic — those who have been in the system and who have benefited from the bill.

At an event called “Stories of Hope,” organized by students at the University of Alaska Anchorage Master of Social Work students, a small group of attendees gathered at Northern Light United Church and listened to the accounts of three people who had first-hand experience with the criminal justice system. The stories were raw as they delved into their childhood traumas and adult struggles, but all three tales led to optimistic endings.

SB 91 helped them all get back on their feet sooner than they otherwise would have, they said. Mike Van Linden, a reentry case manager for JAMHI Health and Wellness, was able to get a temporary driver’s license after his felony DUI as part of SB 91, he said in his talk. Being able to get that, he said, helped him get a job and function better than he otherwise would have.

Van Linden, who is in long-term recovery, has become a prominent figure in town when it comes to reentry and recovery. He’s aware of the criticisms of SB 91 and the strong emotions behind property crime in the state, but he’s also had a front-row seat to ways the bill is helping reduce recidivism rates in the state as well.

SB 91 has been a hot-button issue since it was signed into law in July 2016. Social media feeds light up with images of crimes and complaints about how the bill is at fault. Many politicians, including Gov. Mike Dunleavy, have called for a full repeal of the bill. Other politicians have called for changes to the bill and not a sweeping repeal.

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