Sounding somewhat Kennedy-esque on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell told Kenai business and civic leaders that fixing Alaska's crime picture is less about the state spending money and more about building strong families and strong schools.
Stating pointblank that the criminal justice system needs work, Parnell told members of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce businesses need to reach outside their comfort zones and offer opportunities to young people who, he said, need a compelling reason to succeed.
"Your strong schools and strong families are leading to lower crime rates in the state," Parnell said.
Saying Gov. Sarah Palin asked him to look at the criminal justice system in Alaska, Parnell told the business leaders "the depravity of humankind hit close to home" recently when he and his wife were out walking with their dog near their Anchorage home.
Not far from where their walk had taken them, they encountered Anchorage police, the FBI and other investigators searching for clues in the recent disappearance of Mindy Schloss, the Anchorage psychiatric nurse who went missing three weeks ago.
Schloss, who works one week on and one week off at a mental health facility in Fairbanks, failed to show up for work Aug. 6, and investigators later found her car abandoned near the air cargo buildings at the Anchorage airport. She is still missing.
"We all have to deal with these issues," Parnell told the packed banquet room of business leaders and local government officials attending the chamber luncheon.
Parnell said police departments in the state are arresting individuals for a second and third time, even before their first case has been adjudicated.
In speaking with district attorneys, Parnell, himself an Alaska attorney, said he has found that some of their assistants are carrying "300 to 500 cases."
"When I had my law practice, I found 25 to 30 cases to be a full load," he said.
What that translates to is prosecutors only have time to give their attention to the most serious of the cases.
"Even then, they can't spend enough time," Parnell said.
He also pointed to flaws within the court system, saying "their maintenance records are archaic."
Court documents are often a piece of paper that is passed around for more than a month before being entered into the system.
"That means the (police) officer on the street does not have access to those records," he said.
Adding to what he called "the revolving door system," is the fact that the Department of Corrections is forced to release people earlier than they would like in order to make room for new offenders.
"There is no rehabilitation," he said, adding the criminals break the law again and are rearrested.
Parnell referenced the case of Frank Adams, who was arrested at age 16 for conspiring to commit murder.
"At age 20, he was released from juvenile custody with no remorse," he said.
Now, 29 years later, he has been arrested again, charged with killing a woman.
"He had 19 prior convictions when he was arrested (this year)," Parnell said.
He said the question is "how individuals address the evil that lives among us."
"There is no question that there will be additional appropriations into the (criminal justice) system, but what's the best way to phase them in?" Parnell asked rhetorically.
"The government can't fix it, but we can create the environment where solutions come," he said. "We're all in this together.
"I'm here to spark that conversation."
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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