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JUNEAU – Today, the Alaska Senate Democratic Caucus sent a letter [PDF] to Governor Bill Walker expressing urgent and deep concern about personnel cuts made to the Criminal Division of the Alaska Department of Law. The letter was prompted by testimony given to the Senate Judiciary Committee by Alaska Attorney General, Jahna Lindemuth. Her testimony revealed that over the past three years, budget cuts have forced the Criminal Division to cut prosecutors and their support staff by 31 positions. As a direct result of this staffing cut, the Department of Law was forced to turn away almost 7,000 cases it otherwise would have, and should have, prosecuted.
“Public safety simply has to be our top priority,” said Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “When the Attorney General spoke to us, I was shocked, frankly. When such a direct correlation is made between a constitutionally protected mandate such as public safety, and justice denied to 7,000 victims of crime, we have to do something about it. These cuts have been devastating.”
The Senate Democratic Caucus stands ready to work with the Governor and the Majority to fund the restoration of these positions for the benefit of all Alaskans.
“We have a constitutional responsibility as a legislature to ensure the public’s safety. That is incontrovertible. That is our job. We are where the buck stops,” said Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage). “It’s our job to educate Alaskans on what the results of these cuts are. People need to see this correlation. These cuts fall upon everyone, locally and personally.”
“These are real people, suffering real consequences from these cuts,” said Senator Donny Olson (D-Golovin). “In rural Alaska we are absolutely suffering from public safety cuts. We’ve gone from 121 Village Public Safety Officers three years ago, to only 78 today. They affect people’s lives directly. We remember law enforcement officers that have been murdered. We know the importance of keeping people safe. These are things that cut right to the soul.”
“We feel real concern that we keep hearing so much talk about further deep cuts. We have reached a point where cuts have impacts that are no longer acceptable, and public safety is a prime example,” said Senator Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage). “We must define what kind of state we want to live in and make sure we have enough troopers, VPSOs, prosecutors, social workers and health care workers to do it. The end game must be more than just cutting.”
The full video of today’s press availability with Sens. Gardner, Wielechowski, Begich, and Olson can be found here.
For more questions, please contact the Senate Democrats’ Press Secretary, Jeanne Devon at (907) 465-5319.