Alaska “Catch and Release” Bail Reform Plan Crafted by Texas Bail Reform Guru Rolled Back by Governor backed Legislation

On July 8, 2019, Alaska Governor Michael Dunleavy signed into law House Bill 49, a bill that effectively repeals and replaces the failed bail reform bill Senate Bill 91.  House Bill 49 addresses many of the “gaps” in Alaska’s criminal statutes resulting from Senate Bill 91, including giving discretion back to judges to protect the public.

RELATEDGovernor Dunleavy Signs Crime-Fighting Legislation Into Law

RELATEDHB 49: Getting tough on classification and sentencing

What are some of the key issues House Bill 49 addresses?

  • Judicial discretion:HB 49 returns discretion to judges so they can evaluate the seriousness of the threat to public safety as they consider releasing a person before trial.
  • Failure to appear:HB 49 removes the 30-day grace period for failure to appear in court, to ensure better enforcement for defendants appearing in court for hearings and trials.
  • Presumptions for release on bail:HB 49 removes the need for finding by clear and convincing evidence before monetary bail can be imposed.
  • Pretrial risk assessment:HB 49 moves the pretrial supervision under probation and eliminates the requirement to consider the person’s pretrial risk assessment score.
  • Bail review hearings:Although the inability to pay bail is removed through this bill, it allows a person to receive one bail review hearing if they cannot post the required bail and they made a good faith effort.
  • Increase use of video-teleconferencing: HB 49 encourages the use of videoconferencing for all pretrial court hearings to save the state money.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?  How did we get here?

Mark Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation is one of the key architects and advocates for what was Senate Bill 91, a bill that moved away from defendants having to

Marc Levin of Texas Public Policy Foundation (photo: TPPF website)

post monetary bail prior to being released.  Instead, SB 91 mandated the handing out of stacks of get-out-of-jail-free cards to criminal defendants.  The results turned the state on alert and citizens in outrage.

Levin is a key proponent of the so-called no money bail system, where a risk assessment algorithm is used to decide who’s in jail and who isn’t.  In point of fact, he told the world that going to this system in Alaska was absolutely going to save money and reduce crime.  Instead, Senate Bill 91 has been blamed for a recent “crime wave” in Alaska and savings did not materialize.  With Governor Dunleavy signing into law House Bill 49, Levin’s bail reform experiment has finally been put out to pasture.

RELATED: New sheriff in town: Repeal of SB 91 signed into law

Governor Micheal Dunleavy signs HB 49 into law (courtesy Must Read Alaska)

HB 49 effectively repeals and replaces the law that led to a crime wave across Alaska during the Walker Administration. It strengthens sentencing for many categories of felonies, and gives judges back the discretion they need when deciding bail conditions. It also dramatically corrects the former “catch and release” revolving door.


“Alaska’s crime statistics have gone through the roof as verified by the FBI and members of our own administration. Our property crimes are higher than most places in the United States. Our sexual assault rates are unspeakable. We have one of the highest murder rates in the country. But that’s going to change with the advent of this bill being signed today,” said Dunleavy at the bill signing ceremony at the Department of Public Safety Lake Hood Hangar. “This isn’t going to fix it all, this is just the beginning. This is going to allow the thin blue line, Troopers, corrections, local police, all of law enforcement- it’s going to give them the tools to catch these criminals, hold these criminals, prosecute these criminals, and sentence these criminals.” - Must Read Alaska, June 8, 2019

Let’s go back in time and see what Mr. Levin specifically promised Alaskans what would happen.  Of Senate Bill 91 he said that “at its core are policies that protect Alaskans.”  He also noted, contrary to a wave of commentary otherwise, that there is “no evidence” that Senate Bill 91 increased crime in Alaska.  He also said that Senate Bill 91 would deliver substantial financial savings to the state by reducing “exploding costs.”

RELATED: Facing facts and correcting myths about Senate Bill 91

As to Levin’s claims, not so said Governor Dunleavy who said that Senate Bill 91 did lead to a spike in crime in Alaska.  In addition, the District Attorney in Anchorage told the Alaska Public that “SB 91 deprived them of the tools they need to make Alaska safe – particularly when it comes to provisions that made it easier for defendants to get out on bail before trial.”  He noted that of law enforcement and prosecutors, “we are all frustrated,” and that, “We’re in this business to try to make our community safer, and it’s a very uncomfortable discussion when we interact with our neighbors and our friends and our community members and they look at us, like, ‘What are you doing?’”

RELATEDAlaska lawmakers are trying to fight crime by toughening prison sentences. Not everyone agrees that will work.

The legislature also rejected Levin’s arguments almost unanimously, calling into question his original plan of Senate Bill 91.  In fact, only two legislators of the sixty legislators who serve in Alaska voted against House Bill 49, which nearly entirely reverses the bail reform law.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Levin’s bail reforms, which mirror those of many groups like the Pretrial Justice Institute and Arnold Ventures who thought they could “moneyball” criminal justice by replacing judges with their fancy computers and artificial intelligence.

As momentum continues to grow against catch-and-release get-out-of-jail-free policies, it’s time for public officials to ask, where are the savings you promised?  Where are the crime reductions from decades of these policies in the nation’s largest cities you promised?  Where is the proof that mass supervision by taxpayer funded pretrial agencies over the last generation has worked?  The answer is that these policies don’t work and cause greater harm, as the citizens in Alaska had to find out the hard way.

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