Some police departments reluctant to provide state pretrial services

Nov 7, 2017

Homer Police Department.
Credit Shahla Farzan, KBBI News

As the Legislature debates criminal justice reform, pieces from last year’s major reform bill, Senate Bill 91, are still being put into place. The Alaska Department of Corrections is working to launch its pretrial enforcement division by next year, which will shift Alaska’s protocol for releasing defendants before trial to a risk-based system, rather than releasing only those who can afford bail.

The DOC is looking to contract local police departments to provide pretrial services, but some police departments are reluctant to sign onto the program.

DOC spokesperson Megan Edge said the newly formed division is asking departments that have community jail contracts with the state to do everything from assess the risk of releasing a defendant prior to trial to monitoring those who may not show up for their court date.

“Our hope is to work with local law enforcement agencies across the state at different capacities for what they’re willing to do to help supervise defendants who are waiting for resolution for their case,” she explained.

Local law enforcement can sign on to provide one or several services the division plans to offer, and in return, the state will pay for those services through each departments’ jail contract.  

“While some communities, they’re taking on more responsibilities than others, others like Homer are taking on less responsibility,” Edge said, “but like I said it’s really a conversation we’re having with local law enforcement in each community.”

The Homer Police Department plans to take on monitoring defendants electronically. Police Chief Mark Robl said other services such as assessing risk and community supervision are time consuming and the amount of money the state is offering departments to take them on isn’t enough.

“The pretrial electronic monitoring is probably going to work out for us. I don’t think we’ll make any money on it, we’ll break even, but it’s a service I feel we can provide for the amount of money they’ve offered us,” Robl said.

The Homer Police Department will receive an additional $14,000 per year through its jail contract for that service. Payment for other services ranges from $15,000 to $4,500. Robl said that’s not enough to pay for precious man-hours or an additional position to manage them.

Over the past few years, the state has cut Homer’s community jail contract by about $200,000, and Robl said that has stretched the department thin.

“As a result of that cut, we had to lay off one of our full-time employees. We don’t have 24-hour coverage in the jail,” he explained. “So, they’re asking us to provide more services than we ever did when we had 24-hour coverage, and they’re not going to compensate us enough to restore 24-hour coverage to the jail.”

Some departments around the state have already contracted to provide services while others are still mulling the idea over.

DOC said it will provide pretrial services in all communities regardless if police departments sign on to provide them, and it plans to have regional offices fill in the gaps. The division is set to launch on Jan. 1 of next year.