Town Hall talks focus on Senate Bill 91

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WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - Residents of the Mat-Su Borough met with their elected officials and public safety professionals Saturday to talk about crime in the Valley and Senate Bill 91.

A town hall meeting was held at the Curtis D. Menard Sports Center in Wasilla, where many valley-area residents spoke up about concerns of stolen mailboxes, property crimes and drug problems.

Much of the debate centered around whether penalties for criminals in Alaska were too harsh or too lenient.

"There's a moral issue here and the only way you address those moral issues is through definite consequences," said Denny Loy, who spoke out in favorite of stricter penalties.

The legislature passed SB 91 last year in an effort to address issues within Alaska's criminal justice system.

Dept. of Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams estimated that the majority of people within the prison system right now have major drug or alcohol issues. He said under SB91, the DOC is investing in treatment options in an effort to get people help and prevent them from becoming repeat offenders.

"It's the other portion - the reinvestment piece - to get people off of it," Williams said. "Get off of drugs and they'll stop stealing from our homes."

The department is also ramping up efforts to prevent drugs from getting into the prison system. Williams said there is a major problem with drugs coming into prison, and they've recently launched internal investigations to stop it.

Christine Allison, a local resident who attended the meeting, said she is in favor of providing treatment options to prisoners.

"When you decide that the way to solve this is by punishing someone, and that is our only alternative, we are actually making the problem worse," she said.

However, many Valley residents argued for stricter penalties, saying prison must not be tough enough if people keep reentering the system.

"What about the victims? The victims are getting run over, and we are seeing nothing back, but getting more victimized," said Wayne Letourneau.

Edie Grunwald, whose 16-year-old son David Grunwald was murdered in Palmer last year, said there needs to be more balance.

"I'm all about the compassion for people," she said. "I understand the compassion, but we also need to balance that out with justice, because we have victims out here.

"We need consequences that are balanced with the amount of compassion that we are giving the people that need attention," she said.

This year, the legislature will be deciding whether to keep, amend or repeal SB 91.