Alaska prosecutors ask for change as caseloads soar
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska prosecutors have asked for additional resources so they can hold more criminal offenders accountable.
The state has had upward trends in recent years with violent crimes and property crimes. The upticks come as the Department of Law’s Criminal Division has been hit with deep budget cuts, Alaska Public Media reported Thursday.
The department said the circumstances have forced district attorneys to prioritize going after violent felonies ahead of any other cases, including non-violent felonies and misdemeanors.
“The offenses are still occurring, the crimes are still occurring,” Deputy Attorney General Rob Henderson said. “We do not have the resources to prosecute all the offenses that come in the door, and so we have to prioritize.”
In response, Gov. Bill Walker has asked the Legislature for more than $1.2 million to add five state prosecutors. Two would be based in Anchorage, and there would be one each added to the district attorneys’ offices in Bethel and Kotzebue. The plan would also add support staff.
But state Public Defender Quinlan Steiner said lawyers in his office are struggling with their own heavy caseloads. If more prosecutors means more charges filed, and there are still the same number of public attorneys available, Steiner said that too is a problem.
“It will certainly create a bottleneck, as we are unable to meet with clients and assist them in their cases in a timely manner. And we’re starting to see that now,” Steiner said.
The governor has requested more funding for the Public Defender Agency along with the additional prosecutor positions. But it remains to be seen what the Legislature includes as it crafts its state operating budget.
Another position the governor added is a statewide drug prosecutor, already funded under last year’s budget. Longtime Anchorage Assistant District Attorney Katholyn Runnels has been hired to fill that role and started this week, focusing on large-scale drug dealers fueling Alaska’s opioid epidemic.