The Alaska Bar Association sees drug addiction and mental health issues as a “core” issue to local and statewide crime trends, which require out-of-the-box legal remedies.
In Kodiak, that can mean finding new programs outside of traditional courts to deal with drugs, domestic violence, and other symptoms of Kodiak’s and Alaska’s social ills.
“The court system not really about rehabilitation. They’re pretty good at putting people in jail,” said Geoffry Wildridge, the president of Alaska Bar Association, who spent part of CrabFest weekend speaking to local members of the bar.
“I can tell you that substance abuse here is huge,” he added.
The caseloads for both sides of the scales of justice are huge and the legal system needs alternative ways to deal with drug addiction and related problems.
“The system is effectively broken and we just need different ways to look at those problems,” Wildridge said.
Where applicable, Wildridge advocates the state become more supportive of tribal courts, pointing to examples elsewhere in Alaska, such as in Tanana, where tribal courts handle are now permitted to handle low-level misdemeanors.
“There’s a big push on at this point to develop tribal courts. The state of Alaska has historical resistance to the development of tribal courts, or tribal sovereignty, but things are flipping a little bit,” he said.
One solution to the crime problem locally are faith-based programs. A new one is the Kodiak Area Mentor Program, a partnership between the Kodiak District Probation & Parole Office, with local community members Jeff and Teresa Slaughter.
KAMP’s goal is to reintegrate persons with criminal problems back into the community.
“As I understand it they’ve started small, they’re growing and they’ve done a very great job in getting people hooked up with jobs, places to live and healthy environments,” Wildridge said.
Wildridge also sees Senate Bill 64 – which seeks various tweaks to the criminal justice system to deal with rising recidivism – as a legal aid for addiction and mental health issues.
Wildridge maintains that addiction and mental heath issues “creep into criminal cases, divorce cases, child-in-need-of-aid cases, and any number of other kinds of cases. They’re really a core issue for the court system,” he said.
Wildridge started off his career as a public defender with a two-year stint in Kodiak more than 30 years ago and has memories of a rough and tumble boomtown.
“I lived here from 1979 to 1981, back in the day when crab was king and you could imagine how rowdy and rough it was back then,” he said.
Kodiak, like other cities in Alaska, have “issues of domestic violence, people who want to leave abusive marriages or marriages that don’t work anymore,” said Wildridge’s colleague Krista Scully, the pro bono director of the bar association.
Scully works on the civil side of the legal landscape where “people don’t necessarily have a right to counsel,” she said.
“There are the people who either have resources and or a right to counsel and there’s the people who have nothing. People expect that somebody’s picking up the slack and so we try to make sure that that happens,” Scully added.
For Scully, getting lawyers to volunteer their time – they are required to do 50 hours a year of pro bono work – can help fill gaps in the available legal resources spectrum big-time.
“Kodiak is a pretty generous community. The practitioners that are here do what they can and it’s always impressive to me when we get to meet a community that steps up much as much as they do,” said Scully.
She advocates that locals in need of legal help visit the Alaska Federation of Natives conference this October in Anchorage, which will provide free legal consultations for those with civil legal problems.
Contact Peter J. Mladineo at editor @kodiakdailymirror.com.