Legislature(1999 - 2000)
03/15/1999 01:44 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 funding. 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.