Legislature(1999 - 2000)

03/15/1999 01:44 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
          SB 1-NO MANDATORY PAROLE RELEASE WITHOUT GED                                                                          
SENATOR DONLEY said everyone is concerned with recidivism and we                                                                
all want people who come out of prison to try to avoid future                                                                   
crimes. He said he has read articles that cite illiteracy as one of                                                             
the biggest factors fueling juvenile crime. SB 1 will encourage                                                                 
rehabilitation and reformation, as dictated in the constitution, by                                                             
making good time contingent on prisoners attaining certain                                                                      
educational requirements. This means while people are incarcerated                                                              
they will obtain their General Education Degree (GED).                                                                          
SENATOR DONLEY said                                                                                                             
SB 1 is not a new idea and is in place to varying degrees in                                                                    
Florida, California, Colorado, Tennessee, Virginia and Texas. He                                                                
said the committee substitute for SB 1 incorporates a suggestion                                                                
made by the Department of Corrections that applies the bill only to                                                             
prisoners who are to be incarcerated for two or more years.                                                                     
Number 545                                                                                                                      
SENATOR DONLEY moved CSSB 1 (JUD). Without objection, the committee                                                             
substitute was adopted.                                                                                                         
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked why non-eligibility for prisoners sentenced                                                               
to 99 years is deleted in the committee substitute.  MR. JAMES                                                                  
ARMSTRONG, staff to SENATOR DONLEY, replied that that provision is                                                              
"picked up in Section 4."                                                                                                       
SENATOR HALFORD agreed with the idea behind the bill, but expressed                                                             
concern about how the bill might apply to older village Alaskans to                                                             
whom English may be a second language, and who might have a hard                                                                
time attaining these educational requirements. He said natives are                                                              
now proportionally "out of whack" in the correctional system and he                                                             
does not want to make that worse. SENATOR DONLEY pointed out the                                                                
clause in the bill that made the requirement inapplicable to anyone                                                             
"incapable of attaining a diploma or its equivalent." SENATOR                                                                   
HALFORD replied, "I'm uneasy with stating that those people who may                                                             
be smarter than the rest of us in a lot of unquantifiable ways are                                                              
incapable - that's a hard statement . . . I don't want to state                                                                 
there is any inability . . . " SENATOR DONLEY suggested an "extreme                                                             
hardship" standard and SENATOR HALFORD replied, "Well, for some of                                                              
these people, they deal with extreme hardship all their lives,                                                                  
except when they're in the prison system." SENATOR DONLEY concluded                                                             
by saying he is open to addressing this issue.                                                                                  
Number 575                                                                                                                      
SENATOR TORGERSON asked if the State administers the GED test in                                                                
languages other than English. MS. BETSY ROBSON testified from                                                                   
Anchorage via teleconference that the GED is now administered only                                                              
in English. SENATOR TORGERSON said, "I don't agree with SENATOR                                                                 
HALFORD's comments . . . I can't believe that is the only document                                                              
that we haven't transmitted into another language when we do                                                                    
everything else."                                                                                                               
TAPE 99-18, Side B                                                                                                              
Number 591                                                                                                                      
MS. ROBSON, representing the Department of Corrections, said the                                                                
bill is based on a good concept, but she has some concerns about                                                                
program applications and financial considerations. Specifically, to                                                             
implement the bill, the Department would have to identify the                                                                   
inmates who need to complete the program, give them a screening                                                                 
test to determine their educational level, determine which inmates                                                              
may have special educational needs, organize study groups, and                                                                  
withhold parole for those inmates who do not achieve the required                                                               
educational goal.                                                                                                               
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked if a part of the Department's budget is                                                                   
already allocated for educational programs for inmates. MS. ROBSON                                                              
said a small portion is, but this program would require additional                                                              
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR remarked that a significant amount of money comes                                                               
from prisoners and is conveyed to the Violent Crimes Commission and                                                             
used for educational programs for prisoners. SENATOR DONLEY said                                                                
some of this money is allocated for "gate money" and some goes to                                                               
inmate programs.                                                                                                                
Number 548                                                                                                                      
MR. BLAIR MCCUNE, representing the Alaska Public Defender Agency,                                                               
questioned whether a public defender would be required to represent                                                             
inmates in a parole board hearing resulting from their failure to                                                               
complete the GED program. He asked who would determine which                                                                    
inmates are incapable of achieving the GED. He wondered how the GED                                                             
program would fit with other inmate programs such as substance                                                                  
abuse education and sex offender treatment.                                                                                     
MR. MCCUNE said currently, prisoners have their needs assessed by                                                               
an institutional probation officer who identifies their needs and                                                               
places them into the proper programs. He worries that the GED                                                                   
program might take a backseat to a more pressing need such as a                                                                 
substance abuse program.                                                                                                        
SENATOR DONLEY asked MR. MCCUNE if it was a statutory requirement                                                               
to have a public defender represent prisoners at parole hearings.                                                               
MR. MCCUNE said it is. SENATOR DONLEY asked if it is a                                                                          
constitutional requirement. MR. MCCUNE explained he believes there                                                              
is a case to require representation, at least in the adjudicatory                                                               
portion of parole revocation hearings. He said he would research                                                                
this and inform the committee of his findings. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said                                                             
it seemed plausible that representation would be required in                                                                    
revocation hearings, but he did not think it would be necessary at                                                              
all parole board hearings.                                                                                                      
Number 494                                                                                                                      
MS. ROBSON pointed out the sharp increase in the funding necessary                                                              
in fiscal year 2003 (FY 2003). This is due to the increase in  time                                                             
of incarceration for those inmates who fail to attain their GED.                                                                
She is concerned that this type of punitive measure is inconsistent                                                             
with the intent to positively motivate offenders to participate in                                                              
programs. Many states look toward positive incentives, rather than                                                              
sanctions. She urged the committee to consider this and suggested                                                               
this approach might reduce the fiscal note and have a more positive                                                             
effect on inmates. SENATOR DONLEY responded that if we shared the                                                               
national standard for good time, that would be a viable option.                                                                 
Since we have the most permissive good time standard, it is not.                                                                
Number 465                                                                                                                      
MR. BRUCE RICHARDS, also representing the Department of                                                                         
Corrections, explained that other states like Florida, have                                                                     
meritorious GED and literacy programs. He says the Department                                                                   
expects some inmates will fail to complete the GED program, for                                                                 
educational or disciplinary reasons, and that is the reason for the                                                             
fiscal note.                                                                                                                    
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR commented that, in his experience as a judge, a                                                                 
court order to complete a GED program was always obeyed.                                                                        
MR. MICHAEL STARK, representing the Department of Law, made the                                                                 
point that those inmates who are not released on parole will "go                                                                
cold turkey into the community - no supervision . . . we can't                                                                  
underestimate the value of parole and probation supervision to help                                                             
somebody reintegrate into society after they've done a number of                                                                
years in prison."                                                                                                               
MR. STARK noted that voters passed an "official English" initiative                                                             
so he does not know if the test could be administered in other                                                                  
languages. Also, some native languages are primarily verbal                                                                     
languages and would not adapt well to the written GED test. He said                                                             
a meritorious incentive program might address SENATOR HALFORD's                                                                 
concern to the extent that inmates who do not attain the GED would                                                              
not be penalized.                                                                                                               
MR. STARK suggested amending the statute to ensure the program                                                                  
would be made available to inmates before they can be required to                                                               
participate in it.                                                                                                              
MR. STARK said the bill raises some due process concerns and                                                                    
regulations and procedures will need to be developed to deal with                                                               
challenges to an inmate's capability to attain a GED. CHAIRMAN                                                                  
TAYLOR, in reference to the fiscal note submitted, remarked,                                                                    
"Somebody within the Department has already made some significant                                                               
assumptions about how many people are going to be incapable or                                                                  
refuse to do it . . ."                                                                                                          
Number 392                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HALFORD said the question of penalties or incentives is one                                                             
of semantics and his concern could be addressed by requiring a GED                                                              
or "an increase in whatever . . .  they start from. I don't want to                                                             
see us create something that is another screen that keeps more                                                                  
Alaska natives in and lets more nonnatives out."                                                                                
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR announced the bill would be held for work in the                                                                
Judiciary Committee.                                                                                                            

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