Update: In the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission's Annual Report, the recommendation was made to the legislature as follows:
D. Youth Justice This workgroup examined the practice of charging, convicting, and sentencing youth under the age of 18 as adults. The workgroup heard from two national organizations, Human Rights for Kids and the Campaign for Fair Sentencing for Youth, about the evolving understanding of human brain development as it relates to the culpability of youthful offenders. The workgroup also heard from people who were incarcerated at a young age as well as from family members of people who were incarcerated at a young age. The workgroup considered a number of the statutes that govern treating youthful offenders as adults, such as the automatic and discretionary waivers and the minimum age for trying children as adults. Ultimately, the workgroup recommended, and the Commission approved, a “second look” parole provision for people who are sentenced as adults when they are under 18.
1. Recommendation Regarding Child Offender Safety Valve The Commission recommends that the Legislature pass legislation that assures that, unless subject to earlier parole eligibility, a person who was younger than 18 years old at the time he or she committed an offense or multiple offenses and who was tried and sentenced as an adult is eligible for parole no later than his or her 15th year of incarceration. The imposition of lengthy prison terms, including mandatory prison terms of 15 years or more, without a reasonable opportunity for release, violates the human rights of children. After serving 15 years, a person who was tried as an adult for a crime or crimes committed when he or she was younger than 18 years old shall be given a meaningful opportunity to obtain release where the Parole Board considers the diminished culpability of children as compared to that of adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation of the person.
The Commission recommends that such legislation be applied retroactively.
The entire report can be read here: http://www.ajc.state.ak.us/acjc/docs/ar/2020.pdf
For some time now we have been advocating for second look legislation regarding youths tried as adults in Alaska who are serving virtual life sentences. This year the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission finally took it up for discussion by adding it to the Youth Justice Workgroup. This workgroup was comprised of key stakeholders who came together to discuss this and other proposals regarding justice impacted juveniles. The Second Look proposal in essence would allow juveniles tried as adults under the age of 18 at the time of their offense to go before the parole board after having served the first 15 years of their sentence. This proposal would allow a number of individuals currently serving virtual life sentences a meaningful opportunity for parole, wherein as it stands now they would be seniors before coming before the board. Today, without any opposition, this proposal was adopted by the commission to be added to the recommendations sent to the legislature. It is only the beginning, but it is a beginning, and that is more than we had yesterday. I am thankful to all who contributed to the discussion on this incredibly important issue, and ask for your continued support.
The work continues as we look for sponsorship of this proposal at the Legislature and continue advocating for it to become law.
Here is a copy of the most recent statement I submitted for public comment on this proposal:
"My name is Angela Hall and I am the founder of Supporting Our Loved Ones Group. We are in support of the Second Look proposal.
Numerous studies provide evidence that children and young adults are still in the active stage of adolescent brain development. As such, youth are more prone to impulsive behavior, have less control in the suppression of anger, lack of ability to see short- and long-term consequences of their actions, or to give proper consideration of other’s perspectives before acting.
However, children and young adults are also very capable of change and growth and are proven to age out of criminal behavior through maturation of the brain making them good candidates for re-entrance into society and low risk for recidivism.
The Supreme Court has determined that children and young adults are inherently different from adults, and therefore age and mitigating factors must be considered when deciding their future prospects for rehabilitation. In response to these rulings, many States including California, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada just to name a few have already adopted Second Look legislation. According to the Sentencing Project, Alaska is the only State in the US that does not statutorily allow life sentences with or without parole, however 9% of its prison population is serving a virtual life sentence. That’s about one of every 12 prisoners. This percentage includes many who were between the age of 14 and 25 at the time of their offense.
Virtual life sentences of 50 years or more do not promote public safety because the majority of offenders are not contemplating the risk of going to prison at the time of their offense, let alone the length of sentence. It isn’t the amount of time someone serves that determines behavioral change, but rather what the individual has done to better themselves during that time. Release at an advanced age lowers the success rate of reentry because the prospect of finding meaningful work is significantly reduced, it ensures that most of their familial support will be gone and adds to the burden of an already overtaxed social service system. We haven’t even touched on the effects of institutionalization on the individual.
If the human aspect does not sway you, perhaps the financial aspect will. According to the VERA Institute of Justice, in 2015 the average yearly cost of incarceration per individual in Alaska was approximately $55,633. Multiply that by 30 years and the state will already have spent $1,578,990 per individual. That does not factor in additional costs for medical services associated with advanced age.
Second Look legislation would allow for a parole review after an individual has served the first 15 years of their sentence to assess whether or not he or she is ready to rejoin society. It is not an automatic guarantee of parole, but rather an opportunity for the individual to demonstrate their individual growth and behavioral change in that time. It is holding youth accountable for their actions while offering a meaningful opportunity for life outside of prison.
Second Look proposals offer hope and serve as incentive and motivation to do better. It’s time to replace condemnation with the opportunity for redemption. Financial resources can be put to greater use in programs that provide children and young adults with educational, vocational, and mentorship opportunities which in turn will prevent future generations from entering the prison industrial complex.
Please end the practice of death by incarceration and support the Second Look proposal.
Supporting Our Loved Ones Group (S.O.L.O.G.)