Until Alaskans feel safe in homes, workplaces and communities, we have work to do. Throughout my career, I've focused on reducing Alaska's shamefully high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. For me, it's a personal crusade.
As your next governor, I will focus on preventing crime, helping victims and holding criminals accountable.
We can't just sit around and wait until a criminal strikes and then slap on the handcuffs. We need to act together as a community to prevent crime.
We have options to be proactive. To start, we can use rehabilitation to prevent crime.
Once we catch criminals, we can't just lock them up and throw away the key. Most offenders will get out after serving their time. If we just warehouse them, they will to go right back into a life of crime.
As chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, I secured funding for an ISER study on rehabilitation. In addition to reducing crime, the report shows that small investments in rehabilitation will reduce prison populations, save Alaska money, and prevent new crimes. Those who sincerely want to change their ways should have a path back to a law-abiding life.
But we can also fight crime before rehabilitation is necessary. We should start as early as possible with full funding for statewide, voluntary pre-Kindergarten programs that can help Alaska's children thrive. Children going through these programs are much less likely to drop out of school, commit suicide, and commit crime.
Yes, investing in Alaska's children won't reduce crime immediately. But it is the right thing to do for multiple reasons, and long-term strategies lead to long-term solutions.
We should also fight the circumstances that lead to crime. Alcohol abuse is linked to domestic violence and sexual assault, particularly in rural Alaska. I strongly support the local option system that lets communities decide how to regulate alcohol. When communities vote for restrictions, the state needs to support them with strong enforcement of anti-bootlegging laws. Treatment programs should be available to those who want help, so we can break the cycles that lead to suicide, domestic violence and sexual assault.
Finally, in some areas, law enforcement is stretched thin. I support our troopers and police, and will work on efforts that put the most talented law enforcement officers on our streets and in our communties. Returning to a defined benefits system will help Alaska attract and retain the best law enforcement officers.
Small communities in Rural Alaska need first responders when crime strikes. While regional centers have Alaska State Troopers, weather problems can keep officers from flying into small villages for hours, maybe even days. Village Public Safety Officers are a critical first line of defense.
Working as a VPSO is a tough job. Officers are essentially on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year. Sometimes, the crime victims are their own relatives.
I worked hard to put more VPSOs on the job and made sure they are paid better for doing such difficult work. Indeed, I helped raise the pay of VPSOs from $16 to $21 an hour. The presence of a VPSO in our small villages will control bootlegging, deter crime, and provide a first responder when problems arise.
As a former board member of Victims for Justice, I know we need to make sure Alaskans get all the help they need when a criminal strikes.
We need to give sexual assault victims more support, to help them deal with the justice system. This year, I co-sponsored the new law raising the state's cap on emergency funding for crime victims. I also co-sponsored a new law making it easier for sexual assault victims to get protective orders in court.
A lot of work remains. We need more and better shelters. We need more forensic nurses, to gather evidence and assist victims of sexual assault.
Finally, we need to be tough on the criminals that caused the harm.
Tough on Criminals
Those who break the law must face strong, swift, and certain consequences.
I spent six years prosecuting criminals. As a rookie prosecutor handling my first trial, I convicted the defendant, thanks to the expert guidance of veteran Anchorage Police officer Dan Seely. One month later, he was dead, killed when he responded to a domestic violence call in Eagle River. I strive to honor his sacrifice by fighting domestic violence.
As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I work hard to deal with Alaska's crime-fighting challenges. The first bill I passed as a legislator increased the sentences for repeat sex offenders, and this past session I sponsored legislation that promotes the use of DNA evidence, so we can catch the guilty and free the innocent.
Criminals shouldn't slip through the net because cops don't have the information they need to make an arrest. In Alaska, our police, court, and prosecuting agencies had a half-dozen different databases that didn't "talk' to each other. I worked with Republicans and Democrats to solve that problem. Now our police will know whether someone they've stopped is violating bail conditions, restraining orders, or probation restrictions. Prosecutors and judges will know a defendant's complete rap sheet right away, without a lot of digging.
A strong case is built with strong evidence. I strongly supported this year's funding for the new state crime lab. Our current facility is outdated and overcrowded, with a huge backlog of evidence to process. Construction will start soon on the new lab, which will speed critical evidence tests, including DNA database searches that can solve sexual assault cases.
We need to improve our sexual assault conviction rates. Only 22% of reported sexual assaults end up with a conviction -- in 8 out of 10 cases, the rapist walks away. Given the number of unreported cases, the number of unpunished criminals and suffering victims is even higher.
This is simply unacceptable. My Senate Judiciary Committee is working on the problem, and I'll continue that work as your next Governor. To make stronger cases, Alaska needs more forensic nurses. Forensic nurses perform detailed examinations of sexual assault victims, turning a weak he-said/she-said case into one strong enough to present to a jury.
I've held criminals accountable in the courtroom. As chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, I've strengthened laws for crimes that hurt people. I'll keep up the fight for safe communities as your Governor.