ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker unveiled a plan Monday to address a rise in the state’s crime rate and said a stable economic process would help.
People training to put their lives on the line in state jobs connected to fighting crime should be assured they will not be repeatedly targeted for layoff notices every May during state budget deliberations, Walker said.
“Alaska needs fiscal certainty,” the governor said at a news conference in Juneau. “They need to know now and into the future they’re not going to have another series of pink slips upon pink slips upon pink slips.”
Walker, accompanied by a handful of commissioners, said his public safety plan will tackle the state’s rise in crime by addressing recidivism rates, improving the efficiency of state agencies and expanding mental health treatment opportunities.
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A rise in crime in the past two years coincided with an increase in the use of opioid drugs, cuts to public safety resources and an economic downturn, said Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth. The approach must address underlying causes, she said.
Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan said his department will address areas where personnel can by more effective and efficient. The state now spends $2 million annually transporting prisoners from jails to courthouses.
“Installing more telecommunications resources, especially in rural areas, and using video conferencing when it’s appropriate could save not only the money, but it can free up our officers,” he said.
The department’s biggest challenge, he said, is finding men and women to fill vacancies. He said 43 Alaska State Trooper positions are open out of a 285-trooper authorized force, as well as 34 of 78 village public safety officer positions.
He agreed with Walker that the state’s unstable budget process is a factor in attracting qualified employees.
Department of Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams said his agency’s pretrial enforcement division, with the responsibility of making sure defendants attend court appearances, will launch in January.
The state for 20 years has had a serious recidivism problem, with two of three Alaskans who get out of prison returning within three years. The department will make a renewed effort for constructive, productive activities within prison walls, he said.
The department also will try to expand job opportunities for Alaskans leaving prison. Williams said fish processors, who have had problems filling positions, might find a solution from former inmates.
“Someone getting out has to have a job and a place to live,” he said.
Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson said improved access to mental health and substance abuse treatment is essential to the plan to improve public safety.