- Associated Press - Friday, April 8, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Sweeping proposals to reform the state’s criminal justice system could be funded by revenue collected from the state’s legal marijuana industry.

The Senate is expected to vote Saturday on a bill to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system. The Department of Corrections projects changes in the bill would reduce the state’s prison population by more than 1,700 inmates by 2019.

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

To fund these changes, the Senate Finance Committee has proposed a recidivism reduction fund to be filled annually with 50 percent of marijuana tax revenue.

Committee co-chair Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, said her committee received a best-guess estimate from Gov. Bill Walker’s administration on potential marijuana revenue. The administration estimates $3 million going into the recidivism reduction fund next year, and $6 million annually after that through 2022.

The Departments of Corrections, Behavioral Health and Public Safety have requested a combined $7.1 million in the next fiscal year to pay for the program changes contained in the bill.

Corrections further estimated that it would save more than $4.5 million in the same time period by releasing 300 people from prison.

The largest funding request comes from Corrections, which estimates needing to add more than 100 full-time positions to create a program designed to keep low-risk defendants out of jail as they await trial. It asked for more than $10 million in 2018 to pay for the new program.

MacKinnon said the finance committee does not support adding that many employees to the state’s payroll and said the department would have to present a plan to the Legislature next year showing how it would use the money.

Senate President Kevin Meyer said he expected the bill to be in the House by early next week.

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