- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - With just days left in the legislative session, the state House is set to consider a bill that would make sweeping changes to Alaska’s criminal justice system.

The state Senate on Saturday approved a measure that moves away from tough-on-crime programs that have been a staple of Alaska’s criminal sentencing structure since it gained statehood.

“I think you can call this a little bit of a paradigm shift, if that’s what you want to call it,” bill sponsor Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said before the vote. “That means a lot of things are going to change.”

The bill proposes investment in pre-trial monitoring programs, changes in probation and parole requirements, and drug and mental health treatment programs to reduce the state’s prison population and recidivism rate or the number of repeat offenders.

The Department of Corrections projects changes in the bill would reduce the state’s prison population by more than 1,700 inmates by 2019.

Critics of the bill include some victims’ rights groups and a group of police c departments, including the North Pole Police Department, which sent a letter asking lawmakers to abandon the proposal.

Chugiak Republican Sen. Bill Stoltze, who was one of two dissenting votes, said advocates for victims’ rights were not included in the bill. He suggested a number of amendments, including making possession of GHB, a commonly used date-rape drug, a felony.

“I feel like I’m the guy who’s raining on the parade but I’m one voice and if I didn’t raise it I wouldn’t be representing my constituents,” he said.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the bill on Sunday.

There is one week left in the Legislative session.

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