JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Matthews told legislators Wednesday that therapeutic courts and restorative justice may someday become trends in Alaska.
Addressing a joint session on the State of the Judiciary, Matthews said the alternatives to common law trials may reduce recidivism and prove less expensive for some cases than the overall current criminal justice system.
In a therapeutic court, a single judge is assigned a certain class of cases, such as drug offenses.
''The judge uses judicial coercion, the threat of sanctions, to compel compliance with a long-term treatment plan,'' Matthews said.
The judge retains active control over cases for long periods of time and schedules many hearings to make sure defendants are complying with rehabilitation, Matthews said.
The court system has applied for a federal grant to operate a drug court in Anchorage.
Alaska's only current example of a therapeutic court is the mental health court in Anchorage, paid for in part by a grant from the Alaska Mental Health Trust.
Matthews said the court focuses on misdemeanor offenders who suffer from mental disabilities. A judge orders treatment and monitors it closely as an alternative to jail.
One study of 36 participants showed they spent 3,062 days in jail in the year before their participation and 585 in jail in the year afterward.
''We hope to see the program continue, and we also hope that the model can be used outside Anchorage,'' Matthews said.
Alaska courts also are experimenting with restorative justice, an approach to sentencing intended to be therapeutic for the offender, the victim and the community.
Matthews said the goals are accountability and rehabilitation for offenders and restitution and healing for victims and for the community. The participants meet and agree on all aspects of punishment and restitution.
Youth courts in Anchorage and Fairbanks are examples. Outside of youth court, Matthews said, the system has been used most by Kake Magistrate Mike Jackson in the form of sentencing circles for misdemeanor assault and crimes related to alcohol use.
''Some offenders have turned their lives around after years of problems,'' Matthews said.
He said the court system is encouraging therapeutic court and restorative justice initiatives and monitoring the results.
The chief justice also addressed caseloads and budgets. A $300,000 cut to the courts' budget meant a reduction in some services, including elimination of 24-hour service in Anchorage for domestic violence victims, Matthews said.
He urged support for a $1.4 million case management system that would give judges and law enforcement agencies better information about prior criminal histories of people charged with crimes.
He also called for legislators to appropriate $109,800 so that jurors daily pay could be raised from $25 to $27.50. Juror pay was last increased in 1981.
Matthews said the court system next year would ask for a new Superior Court judge in Bethel. The court system currently covers an increased caseload there with judges from other districts or retired judges.
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