Parole is an alternative to incarceration that provides community safety and accountability. Parole opens up more opportunities for people serving a sentence to access rehabilitative programs. It increases the ability for Alaskans to financially and physically support their families and community. The result of parole is lower costs to taxpayers, lower recidivism rates, healthier families, and safer communities.
Alaskans are intimately familiar with the criminal legal system. More than 7-in-10 (71%) people in Alaska personally know someone who has been incarcerated or has been incarcerated themselves. Many of these people are familiar with parole, which allows an incarcerated person to serve the final portion of their sentence as a functional but supervised member of the community. Generally, parole only applies to people convicted and sentenced for a crime, not people who are incarcerated and awaiting trial.
In Alaska, a five-person board, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature, makes decisions about parole — including granting or denying applications for parole and setting conditions for release.
Since 2020, the Parole Board in Alaska has released 79% fewer people and is holding 75% fewer hearings than before the pandemic. The high rate of denials has not improved public safety. It contributes to overcrowding and the high rate of deaths in Alaska's prisons.
Parole is a critical component of the criminal legal system in Alaska; we must ensure that the Board operates fairly and gives all incarcerated people the opportunity to achieve parole.
We've outlined some basics on parole and the Board to clarify its purpose and where it has strayed from its purpose.
What are the four types of parole?
Discretionary parole is when an incarcerated person applies for parole based on a good institutional record and has plans for work, housing, and, in some cases, continued behavioral health support after release. About one-third of felony offenders in prison can apply for discretionary parole. Some can become eligible to apply after serving one-fourth to one-third of their sentences.
Mandatory parole is for incarcerated people with sentences of longer than two years who earn early release from prison and parole by accumulating good time (days credited for good behavior while in prison.) The law requires the Department of Corrections (DOC) to deduct good time from the sentence imposed, one day for every two days served. Incarcerated people may lose their good time if they fail to follow prison rules or if they do not complete court-ordered treatment.
Geriatric parole is for individuals who are 60 and older and have served at least ten years of their sentence. Individuals convicted of unclassified or sexual felonies are not eligible for geriatric parole, and DOC is not required to proactively work with incarcerated people who qualify for geriatric parole to apply.
Medical parole is for individuals who are diagnosed with a severe medical or cognitive disability after they are sentenced for a crime and, because of their condition, will not pose a threat of harm to the public if released on parole. The medical condition must also be unlikely to improve over the entire period of medical parole or likely to result in death. Among other findings, the Parole Board must determine that a person's required care, treatment, and supervision can be provided in a more medically appropriate or cost-effective way than by DOC. Individuals serving sentences for sexual assault or sexual abuse of a minor are ineligible for special medical parole.
What about clemency?
Clemency is different than parole - the governor ultimately has the final say. The Parole Board screens applications before sending them to the governor's office for review. There are four types of clemency.
- A pardon is forgiveness for a crime or crimes.
- A commutation is a reduction in a sentence.
- A reprieve provides temporary relief from punishment.
- A remission of fines is a reduction or elimination of court-ordered fines.
What role does the Parole Board play?
For discretionary parole, eligible incarcerated people submit applications to the Board. The Board is tasked with assessing the likelihood the individual will re-offend if released by reviewing the recommendation of the applicant's institutional probation officer, their disciplinary record while incarcerated, the programs they completed while in custody, and their release plan. The Board can also consider the severity of the crime, as well as input from the victim(s) and the community.
If the applicant is granted parole, the Board determines the date of release and release conditions. If denied, the Board determines if the individual is allowed another opportunity to seek discretionary parole and, if so, when.
For mandatory parole, the Parole Board can set release conditions to help ensure community safety. If the individual on parole is taken back into custody for violating a condition of release, the Board holds a hearing to determine if and when that person can seek parole again.
For clemency, applications are first screened by the Parole Board for eligibility.
If an individual is eligible and has completed the application correctly, the Board sends the application to the governor's office. The governor can deny it at this point. If they don't, the application returns to the Parole Board, which is responsible for "investigating and reporting to the governor within 120 days." The Board is required to notify the Department of Law, the Office of Victims' Rights, and the victims of crimes against a person, a crime involving domestic violence, or arson. Those individuals and entities can provide comments back to the Board. The Parole Board also can request more background information about the applicant. After the Board has concluded its investigation, it presents its findings to the Executive Clemency Advisory Committee, which recommends to the governor.
Who sits on the Alaska Parole Board?
The Alaska Parole Board is comprised of five individuals whom the governor appoints. State law requires the governor to make appointments based on judicial district regarding the "ethnic, racial, sexual, and cultural populations" of the state and to select the chair. The law also lays out other selection criteria, which include that at least one appointee must have experience in the field of criminal justice and that the governor must appoint members "who can consider the character and background of offenders and the circumstances under which offenses were committed."
The current members of the Board are:
Leitoni Matakaiongo Tupou/ Chair
Sarah Possenti/ Vice Chair
Richard' Ole' Larson
Most current members of the Board have a law enforcement background within the Department of Corrections. Read more about the current Board members here.
Recent trends with parole in Alaska
- Data from 2022 shows incarcerated white people were about twice as likely as Alaska Native/ American Indian and Black people to be granted discretionary parole.
- Only about 25% of incarcerated Alaskans who applied for discretionary parole had their applications granted in 2022, down from a high of 66% in 2015.
- The Prison Policy Initiative graded Alaska's parole system an 'F.' Read the full grading system here.
- Alaska's prison population is aging. During the last ten years, the number of people 55 and older has grown by 50 percent. Many of these individuals are eligible for geriatric parole.
Opportunities for public feedback on the Board of Parole's practices
The Alaska Board of Parole hosts an annual meeting to provide a review of the Alaska parole system, operational information, and data supporting its function. Those attending will have the opportunity to provide comments and to ask questions to the Board regarding its activities.
Time: Wednesday, November 8, 2023, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (Alaska Time)
Location: Robert B. Atwood Building at 550 W 7th Ave. Ste. 106, Anchorage, AK 99501
To Join via Phone, Dial 1-800-315-6338 and use Access Code 2697434#