Probation violators targeted in crime-prevention program

James Halpin

City and state officials on Wednesday announced that Anchorage is a testing ground for a new plan to aggressively go after probation violators in the hope that it will prevent more serious crimes from happening in the future.

Project PACE is banking on the belief that swift and stiff punishment for probation violations will set straight criminals who are accustomed to an overloaded criminal justice system that is slow and inconsistent.

"A system that sometimes takes three to four months to adjudicate an offender who has committed some wrongdoing -- even a minor wrong -- out on probation loses its effectiveness very quickly," Department of Corrections commissioner Joe Schmidt said. "What the program has found in Hawaii, where it was developed and studied, is that when it's quick and certain, these issues can be addressed while they're still small."

The program is now targeting about 30 probationers the corrections department determined were at high risk for re-offending, he said. Their crimes include felony driving under the influence and drug-related thefts, said special assistant to the commissioner Carmen Gutierrez.

The plan calls for convicted criminals who violate their probation to be arrested as soon as they can be found and to be processed through the court system within 72 hours, Schmidt said.

For police, that means targeted offenders with arrest warrants will be at the top of the pile, Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said. The offenders will then face a judge within a day to be punished for the violation, he said.

"Right away, they have to account for their behavior," Mew said. "So we don't get to keep building this pattern of lack of consequences for even minor infractions."

Mew said officials plan to compare the results of the target group against those of probationers not in the target group to measure potential success, which would manifest itself in lower recidivism rates.

The test group is small because officials wanted to avoid inundating the system, Mew said. The group will be re-sized as needed to ensure the workload doesn't overwhelm police officers, lawyers and judges, he said.

"I think we would manage the numbers in this so we never have to add anybody," Mew said. "We would pay for this, in theory, by reducing downstream calls for service, downstream necessity of calling officers to testify in court ... and all those other things that happen downstream that also sap our manpower."

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