- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - The state has given a tribal government in western Alaska authority to hand down sentences for low-level offenders in its jurisdiction.

The agreement between the state and the Anvik Village Tribe has been described as a model for other tribes to take more active roles in their communities’ criminal justice matters, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (https://bit.ly/2jmXDZJ).

Under last week’s agreement, law enforcement is required to offer both tribal and nontribal members the option of diverting from the state’s court system to the tribal court. The tribe also has a say in whether it wants to take up the case.

The crimes covered in the agreement include most low-level drug offenses, underage drinking and misdemeanor assault.

As the state struggles with a multibillion-dollar deficit, Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said giving tribes more authority in criminal justice matters would serve as a benefit to Alaska.

“In our vast state, criminal justice resources get spread thin,” she said. “By partnering with tribal governments, we get culturally based solutions. It’s a win-win for the state and the tribes.”

The village of Anvik is part of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of 42 Athabascan tribes in Interior Alaska.

Nick Gasca, deputy general counsel for the consortium, worked on the agreement and said it has drawn interest from tribes across the state.

“Our general feeling is that we’re going to see this across our region,” Gasca said. “They’re going to see the good work that Anvik is able to do, and they’re going to want to enter into this diversion agreement.”

Gasca said the traditional criminal justice approach has proved unsuccessful in rural Alaska. The goal of the new agreement is to issue sentences that will help change offenders’ attitudes and make communities safer, he said.

“The model this is looking at is restorative justice,” Gasca said. “The victim is healed, the community is healed and the offender takes responsibility in a way that’s meaningful that improves their lives and the community’s lives rather than just going to jail and facing a bunch of fines.”

The villages will be allowed to impose as much as $1,500 in civil fines or require offenders to repair or replace damaged property under the agreement. If the offender does not fulfill the requirements of the sentencing, the case can be sent back to state court for prosecution.


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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