Could New Pro Bono Services Increase Public Safety?

That’s the question being asked of Alaskan officials, lawmakers, law enforcement, and residents amidst an ongoing public safety crisis. The problems faced are so bad that even U.S. Attorney General William Barr has intervened with a declaration of national emergency. Barr announced a $59 million package that will be used for implementing new safety measures in rural Alaska. 

A separate measure would help indigenous people find missing loved ones by analyzing cold cases.

But most everyone agrees that another option would be the implementation of lower-to-no-cost legal services. It’s notoriously expensive to maintain residence in Alaska — so much so that the state actually provides a stipend available for most households. Whenever the need for legal services arises, it can be to the detriment of the family piggy bank.

This measure would help certain demographics more than others. Women, for instance, are adversely affected by domestic violence. Over half of women who reside in Alaska will fall victim to domestic violence. 

How would extra pro bono work help create better overall public health, though? The answer isn’t as complicated as you might think. Many large companies and corporations find loopholes in legal restrictions or outright break the law until someone comes along with a big enough lawsuit. But if no one can afford to sue a company whose lawyers are top of the line (i.e. expensive), then little can be done to shed light on the issues.

Hunsaker Ryan said, “I can tell when it’s a high ozone day. That’s one of my triggers. It does give me empathy for people who struggle with asthma, who do have triggers due to air pollution and who might not have access to health care.”

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency is taking one such Colorado company, Front Range, to bat, going so far as to classify the company as seriously violating the Clean Air Act.

Sometimes Alaskan cases aren’t thrust into the spotlight like cases in the lower 48 are.

State Representative Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel) writes: “The U.S. attorney general’s emergency declaration earlier this year reinforces the heartbreaking truth that rural public safety is in crisis. One that demands strategic and substantially funded partnerships. Alakans can no longer afford for the state to eliminate funding that supposedly goes unspent, just because it thinks it will save money in the short term. Shifting costs and deferring spending does not save money, it just hurts Alaskans.”

Rosita Kaahani Worl, Ph.D., president of Sealaska Heritage Institute, wrote that “public safety is a basic human right. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples can provide state elected officials a guide and recommendations to address the basic human rights of Alaska Natives and the inequities that exist in law enforcement and address long-term solutions related to these historical wrongs.”

And pro bono work can become a big part of those complex solutions.