Ensuring the rights and safety of prisoners
The COVID-19 pandemic has made Alaska’s mass incarceration crisis worse, creating dangerous conditions inside the state’s jails and prisons. In response, the Department of Corrections has severely restricted access to rehabilitation and visitation, which has negatively affected the wellbeing of the incarcerated population, lengthened sentences, and increased the chance of recidivism for those released. Meanwhile, the parole board granted release in just 16 percent of discretionary parole hearings in 2020 – meaning that just 60 people were granted release last year, fewer than in any year since at least 2011. With the prison population expected to exceed capacity within five years, Alaska needs to better support people in prison and in the community upon release.
- We support HB 118, introduced by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, which would expand the ability for incarcerated people to use computers and help equip them with identification before they are discharged. Technology is a key tool for rehabilitation, including expanding educational opportunities, and securing housing and employment before people are released.
- We support budget investments in and efforts to broaden access to community-based and culturally responsive services that address drivers of crime, like mental health and substance misuse treatment, housing, and employment services.
- We also support budget measures or other legislative action that would require the Department of Corrections to explain in more detail how well it is providing rehabilitative programming. The DOC components chiefly responsible for rehabilitation received more than $90 million in taxpayer funds in FY 22, but the department does not make available detailed information on how many people are enrolled, complete, or are on wait lists for the programs it claims are available.
- The ACLU of Alaska supports SB 114, introduced by Sen. Tom Begich. It ensures that minors sentenced as adults would have an opportunity to apply for parole after 15 years in prison. Forcing people who committed crimes as minors to spend decades in prison without an opportunity to demonstrate growth — or hope for release — is counterproductive, arbitrary, and punitive.
Strengthening Alaskans’ voting rights
The right to vote is fundamental, enshrined in both the Alaska and United States constitutions. Alaskans must be free to exercise this right in practice, regardless of political affiliation, geography, and personal circumstance. Therefore, the ACLU of Alaska supports legislation that ensures every eligible voter has equal access to the ballot.
- We support HB 66, introduced by Rep. Chris Tuck, which allows voters to register within 30 days of an election, elect to vote by absentee ballot in future elections, and fix mistakes with their absentee ballots. It also increases pay of poll workers so Division of Elections can more adequately staff polling locations. Some of HB 66’s provisions are also included in SB 39, which includes a positive provision to allow the use of tribal identification cards. However, we continue to oppose SB 39 because it would put more barriers in front of voters, like make completing absentee ballots more complicated and stringent, and unnecessarily introduce complicated technology to Alaska’s elections.
- Alaska has not overcome its disenfranchisement of Native voters. That is why ACLU of Alaska supports using the state budget to ensure the Division of Elections has enough resources to administer elections in an equitable manner and fulfill its obligations under civil rights law, including the provision of language assistance, training for poll workers, and distribution of polling equipment and supplies.
Police accountability and transparency
The ACLU of Alaska continues to be concerned by the manner in which police jurisdictions across Alaska allocate public resources, how they use force, and how they practice transparency and accountability.
We support the package of police reform bills introduced last session by Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, and this session by Rep. Geran Tarr. SB 1, 2, 3, and 4 and their House companions (HB 269, 253, 254, and 270) provide needed statutory standardization for how police use force in Alaska, which is needed especially in areas where troopers and local police may respond to the same call for service. There should be no confusion about the types of deadly force police may use during an incident. SB 7 and 46 (HB 255, 256) would require greater transparency and more comprehensive data collection on the use of force in Alaska. This transparency is especially needed in prisons, where officer misconduct or disparate treatment is harder to bring to light.
ACLU of Alaska supports passage of legislation to protect our LGBTQ+ neighbors from discrimination. While several communities in Alaska have enacted or amended local ordinances to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, many people across the state lack similar protections. HB 17, introduced by Rep. Andy Josephson, and a companion bill (SB 149) introduced by Sen. Gray-Jackson, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression — including in employment, housing, and access to public accommodations. This would be a substantial step forward to living up to the Alaskan values of fairness and freedom.
While we’d prefer to work on legislation that furthers Alaskans' rights and civil liberties, and creates greater protections for all people, we know that we will need to stay vigilant and defend against legislation that attacks transgender people, people seeking abortion care, and freedom of expression. These rights are under attack across the nation, including right here in Alaska. SB 140/HB 230 would make Alaska a more dangerous place for transgender students who want to be part of a school sports team, like any other young person. SJR 4 attempts to eliminate Alaska's constitutional protection of abortion rights. And HB 228 and HB 239 seek to use the power of the state to chill speech about race in the classroom, and discriminate against disfavored political expression, respectively. Our goal is to make sure these don't gain traction, and to stop them if they do.