In September 2018, Alaskans — and the Alaskan Native community, in particular—were outraged to see Justin Schneider walk free after he was arrested for kidnapping a Native woman, choking her unconscious, and masturbating on her. The nuances of sentencing, which allowed Schneider to avoid serving any prison time, would become known as the “Schneider loophole.”
The court’s ruling ignited a movement, led in part by the Alaska Native Justice Center (ANJC), to reform Alaska’s sexual offense laws. ANJC’s advocacy would ultimately lead to the passage of Senate Bill 12, which corrects significant gaps in current sexual assault laws.
In recognition of this work, ANJC is one of six organizations nationwide to be honored with the 2019 Paul H. Chapman Award from the Foundation for the Improvement of Justice.
The award recognizes individuals or organizations whose innovative programs and work have made improvements in the justice system.
The Ideal Advocate
Nine days. That’s all ANJC had to research, write, and submit two resolutions to the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) that would address sexual assault laws.
“AFN General Counsel Nicole Borromeo approached our board and presented to them — she encouraged us to look at the process for when a crime happens, how is someone charge, and being consistent with those charges,” said ANJC Director of Operations Tammy Ashley.
The ANJC team made a comprehensive review of the state’s current sexual assault laws and ultimately submitted two resolutions. One, “supporting changes in state statutes to make the conduct involved in the recent case involving an assault on a Native woman a sex offense and support for a general review of state statutes regarding sex offenses by the criminal justice commission”; the other “calling for an outside investigation of the disparate treatment in the state criminal justice system of cases involving Native offenders and victims.” Both resolutions were passed.
ANJC was the ideal organization to bring the resolutions to AFN, Tammy said.
“ANJC’s whole history was based on legal reform — that’s how we started. It’s a key pillar in our mission: to stand up for the rights of Alaska Native people and to advocate for fair and equitable treatment of our people within the justice system.”
Based on AFN’s action around the resolutions and on the ANJC’s advocacy, Alaska State Senator Peter Micciche introduced Senate Bill 12, which would rectify the sentencing structure of crimes similar to the one committed by Schneider.
The bill was passed into law in May 2019.
“A Landmark Achievement”
“One of ANJC’s greatest strengths is its ability to bring partners together to affect real systems change,” wrote Cook Inlet Tribal Council President and CEO Gloria O’Neill in her letter nominating ANJC for the Paul H. Chapman Award. “ANJC is a leader in advocating for and providing assistance to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
ANJC was presented the Paul H. Chapman Award and a check for $10,000 at an event in Atlanta on September 28.
“This is a landmark achievement for ANJC,” said ANJC Board Chair Gail R. Schubert. “Not only does this award recognize the extraordinary work done to improve Alaska’s sexual offense laws and increase safety for Alaska Native people, but it also shows the importance of advocacy for victims and equal treatment for all throughout Alaska’s justice system — something ANJC has been dedicated to for more than 25 years.”
The Foundation for Improvement of Justice is a private not-for-profit institution founded in 1984 for the purpose of improving local, state, and federal systems of justice within the United States of America.
For more information about ANJC and the organization’s work in advocacy, reentry, and legal aid for Alaska Native people and others, visit anjc.org.