Freedom of expression and public opinion is democracy in action, and media can be the high traffic bridge that connects us, as individuals, with what is going on around us. Media shines a light on issues, both near and far from us. Media can also expose differences and actions that are not in the public interest.
On one hand, media shows us what “they” want us to see. It’s influence on an issue is not necessary the greater public beliefs, but rather a belief of what is being fed to the writer, to the news, or someones own personal view on the issue. If it lacks transparency, if it feeds us incorrect stats, it can be damaging. This undermines democracy and instead creates a witch hunt. Does this mean all media, journalism, news, Facebook, blogs are fed by an interest group? Not always, not usually, but sometimes.
On a local level, I have seen the news, online and televised, focused on issues that are easily sensationalized. I am talking about Senate Bill 91 here, and in full disclosure, I have a personal opinion to the positive aspects of what is can do for us, as Alaskans. Others have personal opinions regarding how its not working. Regardless, in order to understand an issue, I have always tried to see the other side. And the other side is angry. The other side is also confusing the Senate Bill 91 with homelessness, vagrancy, and what happened when “so and so was sentenced four years ago”. I have read the headlines of “spiraling crime” and am a part of some Facebook crime groups. Luckily, or unluckily for us, depending on who you ask, is a greater ability for shared information and how in turn it makes media and any spin accessable. Media and public opinion can be influential in policies that affect us, as Alaskans. People have a voice, even if its biased. Even if it is led by misinformation. Even if it is negligent.
Access to information is important for democracy and helps us make informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. There is a shortcoming, as there always is, being the issue of “how true the information is that is shared”.
Is the information slanted to one view?
Who does this benefit?
Where does the information come from?
So many questions to ask when looking at the validity of an article, newscast, debate, blog, Facebook post…the list goes on.
We believe what we want to believe, using our own lived experiences, what we have seen or heard before, and read before. If a newspaper prints something erroneously, the correction usually appears on a back page, near the bottom, in small print. The printed or broadcasted information is now the experience, not the correction.
Is democracy really a “government of the people, for the people, by the people”?
SB91 is a hot button topic for many Alaskans. Media serves as a means to convince an already frightened public that longer sentences are needed, that the old “nothing works” mentality from the 1970’s is needed again. Thus, a cycle of high incarceration rates, with few rehabilitative solutions, is seen by many as the only option. Remember, that is what we have had for years. And it wasn’t working.
Full disclosure, I am writing this with an ankle bracelet on. I have been incarcerated since I was arrested in 2014. I was granted parole and am due to be released in November, next month from the time of this writing. I am writing this in response to the public meeting I attended October 7th at the Anchorage Assembly. During the public testimony I heard many voices of concern, anger, and misinformation.
“Why can’t we use the criminals PFDs to pay for their incarceration?”
Per PFD website:
You are not eligible for a dividend if during the qualifying year you were:
- sentenced as a result of a conviction of a felony;
- incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a felony;
- incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a misdemeanor if you were convicted of a prior felony after 12/31/96;
- incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a misdemeanor and were convicted of two or more prior misdemeanors after 12/31/96.
Crimes before the SB91 was even enacted were brought up, one woman expressing frustration over her daughter’s killer not being sentenced, three years later.
This is a sentencing issue, and many are frustrated by this. And have been for years, far before SB91 was ever thought into existence.
According to one man, all homeless should be in jail, and it is SB91’s fault they are not.
Homelessness is not a crime.
Car theft has been on the uptick, and SB91 was to blame for this.
Another angry, misinformed Anchorage resident stated “If I burn this building down, it could be a Class B felony, but prosecuters would give me a plea deal, and it would be a Class C felony. Because I am not a felon, I wouldn’t have to do any jail time for it, thanks to SB91.”
No, you would likely be charged with a plethora of Class B charges, and a few Class C’s for good measure. A plea deal for a Class B would most likely be the scenario. See the statutes below, along with an updated sentencing chart. There are also things called “aggravators” and “mitigators”. That increases or decreases the sentence. Here is the link for those.
AS 11.46.400. Arson in the First Degree.
- (a) A person commits the crime of arson in the first degree if the person intentionally damages any property by starting a fire or causing an explosion and by that act recklessly places another person in danger of serious physical injury. For purposes of this section, “another person” includes but is not limited to fire and police service personnel or other public employees who respond to emergencies, regardless of rank, functions, or duties being performed.
- (b) Arson in the first degree is a class A felony.
AS 11.46.410. Arson in the Second Degree.
- (a) A person commits the crime of arson in the second degree if the person intentionally damages a building by starting a fire or causing an explosion.
- (b) In a prosecution under this section, it is an affirmative defense
- (1) that no person other than the defendant had a possessory, proprietary, or security interest in the building or that all persons having such an interest consented to the defendant’s conduct; and
- (2) that the sole intent of the defendant was to damage or destroy the building for a lawful purpose.
- (c) Arson in the second degree is a class B felony.
AS 11.46.420. Arson in the Third Degree.
- (a) A person commits the crime of arson in the third degree if the person intentionally damages a motor vehicle by starting a fire or causing an explosion while that vehicle is located on state or municipal land.
(b) Arson in the third degree is a class C felony.
See sentencing guidelines, past and present, 002_JU2016200423 .
Also, having an arson felony, you would be ineligible for electronic monitoring and doing time in a Community Residential Center.
One woman said SB91 had let someone fall through the cracks who was subsequently shot by police during a routine traffic stop. She was adamant that SB91 is at fault for the mans death, not the officer who shot him.
This is pointing to SB91 as the cause of the man being shot, not logical.
So what now? Viewing criminals within the retribution model, rather than the rehabilitation model, results in an increase of sentences, more parole and probation revocations and more arrests. These are associated with high recidivism rates as well (going back to jail once you leave, due to a parole violation, probation violation or a new charge). Parole/probation violations could be something as simple as interacting with another felon (maybe you met at a support group and went for coffee and fell in love), getting a dirty urinalysis, drinking at a bar, not having an address to list on you monthly probation report. There are many reasons to revoke.
The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) shows that Alaska’s crime rate dropped in national rankings, yet Alaska was one of the top eight states in per capita prison population. Alaska Courts took notice and knew something needed to change.
Even in this report, dated Summer/Fall 2011, the efforts of the Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force of the Alaska Criminal Justice Working Group (CJWG) collaborated on ways to improve Alaska’s justice system. The CJWG was co-chaired by Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter Carpeneti and Attorney General John Burns. The plan had recommended examining laws, rules, policies and practices that resulted in incarcerating individuals who posed no substantial risk to the community; increasing prosecutorial discretion; expanding use of halfway houses; and augmenting therapeutic courts and other problem-solving courts for misdemeanants.
So here we are. SB 91 hasn’t been fully enacted and we are ready to throw out the carefully researched information that took years to forumulate because of what some feel is an uptick in crime. But is that really what is going on? Or is it the ability to put anything and everything out in media, our slants, our opinions, our voices, and call it truth?