Groups form with aim to undo elements of Alaska criminal justice overhaul

A Palmer woman is trying to take her tough-on-crime crusade from Facebook to Alaska's fall elections.

Vicki Chaffin Wallner, founder of a popular Facebook group called Stop Valley Thieves, last week registered a new state-level super PAC called Stop Alaska Crime. She said the group will target state lawmakers who have opposed tougher sentences for criminals.

By sheer numbers, Wallner's Facebook group has been a resounding success: It now claims more than 16,500 members. But the creation of the super PAC will test whether the grassroots organizers who oppose the reduced sentences in Senate Bill 91, the 2016 criminal justice overhaul, will be able to successfully channel their energy into the electoral process beyond social media.

"The time is right. We're looking at an election year and these people's records need to be brought out into the public," Wallner said in a phone interview Tuesday. She said she'll have help from her husband, a retired state trooper.

[Related: Alaska crime and SB 91 – a three-part series]

A second woman, Deborah Brollini, registered a similar political action committee Monday called Repeal SB 91. Brollini she was feeling "helpless" about rising crime in her Anchorage neighborhood and wants to "tell Alaskans' stories, to send a message to people running for office that we're serious about this."

SB 91 reduced prison sentences for people convicted of all but the most serious violent crimes.


Its supporters, including a nonpartisan state criminal justice commission, cited research that shows longer prison terms don't change a convict's likelihood of committing another crime. And they said the state, which faces a huge deficit, could save money by reducing its use of prisons and investing more cash in drug and alcohol treatment.

But the overhaul coincided with rising crime in Anchorage, and its passage faced a backlash that ultimately caused lawmakers to scale back some of its elements in a special session last year.

They're still facing pressure to further scale back the bill and to repeal it, but they haven't passed any sentencing-related legislation this year.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com