Alaska has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and in the world. The number of Alaskans in prisons has increased dramatically in recent years, with nearly 5,000 people currently incarcerated.
Alaskans are overwhelmingly familiar with the criminal justice system. In a 2022 poll, 500 registered voters in Alaska were surveyed and asked, “Have you personally, or do you know someone who has, been incarcerated?” 71% of respondents answered “yes.” All Alaskans are negatively impacted by a large and growing prison population. Here are a few reasons why we need to reform the criminal legal system in Alaska.
- Alaskan families are significantly impacted by incarceration. 47% of people in prison are parents of children under 18. According to the National Institute of Justice, children with incarcerated parents experience psychological stress, antisocial behavior, academic suspension or expulsion, economic hardship, and criminal activity.
- The cost of incarceration is crippling. Alaska’s budget is in crisis. The state already spends more than $420 million on prisons. Because of the growing prison population in Alaska, the state recently opened another prison.
- Alaska Native people are disproportionately incarcerated in Alaska. According to the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, Alaska Natives make up more than 40% of Alaska’s incarcerated population despite representing 22% of the state population overall.
- Alaskans are set up to fail. Alaska’s constitution specifies that everyone has a right to rehabilitation. Research has shown that programs and services that help rehabilitate incarcerated people decrease the chances that they will commit another crime, keep them out of prison, and breaks cycles of incarceration in families. Right now, incarcerated people are set up to fail because they do not have access to the programs and services that would help them become successful members of the community after they have served their prison sentence.
Criminal law reform is critical because the root causes of incarceration are not being addressed. Alaska is increasingly relying on policing and incarceration to solve issues such as poverty, substance misuse and mental illness, criminalizing more and more Alaskans. Our legal system increasingly strips people of their freedoms without addressing healthcare, education, and the high cost of living.
The ACLU of Alaska is committed to ensuring that the rights of all Alaskans are maintained and is working through the Alaska Prison Project to uphold the rights of incarcerated people. We will continue to support and advocate for systemic improvements that address the root causes of incarceration. Learn more about the ACLU of Alaska’s Prison Project.