Justice: court's role changing with Alaska's problems

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Diversion programs that focus on treatment rather than jail sentences have worked elsewhere and show promise in Alaska, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe said Wednesday.

In her annual State of the Judiciary speech before the Legislature, Fabe said pilot programs to treat alcohol abuse, mental illness and other ailments that influence criminal behavior are under way in several communities.

While the programs are too new to show gains, preliminary results are encouraging, Fabe said.

So-called ''therapeutic courts'' have been established in Anchorage, Juneau and are under consideration in Fairbanks.

One program used by Anchorage District Judge James Wanamaker involved court supervision and the use of a prescription drug, Naltrexone, to address criminal behavior influenced by alcohol abuse, Fabe said. Juneau has a similar program and Fairbanks is considering it, she said.

Anchorage Superior Court began a therapeutic court for drunken drivers in December. Bethel will have a similar program after a new superior court judge is appointed, Fabe said.

She said offenders in these programs face more obligations and closer supervision than do defendants in traditional justice systems.

''The goal of the program is to break the cycle of reoffense,'' Fabe said.

Courts nationwide have reported fewer instances of repeat offenders as a result of diversion programs such as drug court. Fabe said the Alaska Judicial Council is currently evaluating the programs in place in Alaska.

A felony-level drug court began in Anchorage in June 2001 and a Mental Health Court began in district court.

Other programs around the state offer assistance for divorced families with children and child protection cases.

The Alaska Judicial Council is also undertaking a study of racial and ethnic disparity in felony sentences and has gathered data on more than 2,300 felony cases in Alaska, Fabe said.

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