The Haines Borough Police Department was the first of 15 rural Alaskan communities to sign a contract with the state to receive funding for new pretrial services.

“Essentially, I would deem this as kind of a pilot project,” said Police Chief Heath Scott.

The state legislature is again working on the criminal justice reform bill, known as SB 91, passed in 2015. A part of the law calls for a pretrial services program, set to begin in January, which will provide funding for Haines and other rural Alaskan communities to take on work primarily aimed at keeping first offenders out of the justice system.

The borough’s agreement with the state Department of Corrections will allot $21,000 prorated for this year’s police budget and $31,000 next year.

Scott said he doesn’t yet know how the department will handle the extra work, which includes electronic monitoring for house arrests and pretrial supervision previously done by parole officers.

The department has a chief, soon to be four officers and five dispatchers. The dispatchers also act as corrections officers for the three-cell jail.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a lot of extra work for us, and believe me I understand the timing of this,” Scott said. “The blue shirt (trooper) is gone, we’re doing their extra work, DOC wants us to do…we’re taking this all under consideration and we understand what the public’s perspective is.”

Scott estimated the department might have about five to 10 defendants who are best suited for the pretrial services each year.

“Someone who has a number of misdemeanors or a number of felonies is going to get treated differently than someone who is a first-time offender in pretrial services, but a lot of it is just, we’re going to wait and see how DOC provides us that level of training. Some of it we’re just going to be new to,” Scott said.

The Department of Corrections will send someone to train Haines officers for this work.

“The one thing that I think is going to be hugely beneficial is the diversion programs. We get a lot of say in that, how that effects this community,” he said.

“I think the Department of Corrections, not speaking for them, were trying to think creatively. If they’re able to institute programs like this in rural locations that have jails, and their departments are able to carry some of their burden, they don’t have to rely on that extended cost of sending probation officers up here,” Scott said.

Last month, DOC Commissioner Dean Williams visited Haines for the contract signing.

“The way we crafted the contract, we can jump out of it at any time. If we see that we’re over-expending resources and monies on this program that’s supposed to save time and energy, then we’re going to opt out of it. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case. If we fundamentally see that that’s occurring, we’re going to sit down with the Department of Corrections and craft a better plan,” he said.

The state cut funding for community jails two years ago, resulting in a $170,000 cut for the Haines Borough.

Scott said he expects the department to be trained in the new program in the next 60 to 90 days, and he should know how the funding is being used in the next six months.