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Janet (Walker) McCabe

Photo of Janet (Walker) McCabe

Janet McCabe has made significant contributions to Alaska in her profession as a community planner and in her civic involvement in justice system reform, preservation of Alaska’s history, and community engagement in public issues.

McCabe grew up in Massachusetts, where her father, Joseph Walker, started the first criminal lab in the state in 1934. As a chemist, he demonstrated that scientific evidence could eliminate the guess work of crime scenes and provide evidence about perpetrators, such as shooting distance, chemical residue of bullets, identification of blood type, and the use of finger prints to identify a criminal. He frequently took his young daughter, Janet, to court to listen to the use of scientific evidence in criminal cases. He told her its use made the criminal justice system fairer. That lesson has remained with her for her entire life.

Professional Accomplishments
She graduated from Smith College and did an internship her senior year with the Boston City Planning Department, where she developed her interest in planning. When she and her husband, David McCabe, came to Alaska in 1960, she worked for the Fairbanks City Planning Department reviewing zoning and subdivision regulations. That practical experience assisted her with her graduate studies in City Planning at Harvard.

Returning to Alaska with a Master’s Degree after the 1964 Earthquake, McCabe found opportunity as a community planner with the Alaska State Housing Authority, where she worked in small villages, such as Yakutat, Goodnews Bay and Kwethluk as well as larger communities, such as Palmer, Sitka and Ketchikan.

In 1973, McCabe had the opportunity to work on a statewide scale as Staff Planner for the Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission. The commission was established to study issues about federal, state and Native owned lands and to make recommendations to the U.S. Congress to be used in drafting the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which was adopted in 1981.

When the Commission ended its work, McCabe was selected by Secretary of Interior Udall as Regional Director for the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service (HCRS), which strengthened her interest in the preservation of Alaska History. She later shifted to the National Park Service as Special Assistant to the NPS Regional Director.  Her assignments there focused on intergovernmental projects such as the development of the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers, the acquisition of Kennicott Mine as part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and liaison with the Alaska Visitors Association. Her emphasis throughout her planning career was to bring diverse voices into the discussion of public policy issues. She retired from the National Park Service in 2000.
McCabe received the YWCA Woman of Achievement award in 2005. Her nominator wrote, “Normally, retirement means taking time for oneself, relaxing and enjoying the fruits of free time. Janet made the opposite choice: retirement meant taking on new projects and devoting her free time to them. Retirement for Janet meant working harder and being paid nothing.”
Volunteer Accomplishments
Since 2000 Janet has been a full-time volunteer with community service organizations, primarily in fields of therapeutic justice, reduction of criminal recidivism, cultural and historic preservation for the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm region and civic engagement with Alaska Common Ground, which engages Alaskans in respectful conversations about public policy issues through community forums.

Partners for Progress – Therapeutic Justice
McCabe’s goal to make the court system fair to all led her to join with Alaska District Court Judge Jim Wanamaker and the Municipality of Anchorage to start Partners for Progress, which is a nonprofit with a goal to reduce unnecessary incarceration. She has Chaired the Board of Directors since 1999.

They initiated Alaska’s first therapeutic court for substance abusing offenders, the Anchorage Wellness Court. These courts are run using teamwork between the judges and lawyers, cooperation with the offender, and a supportive, treatment-based program.  Public protection is enhanced because participants in the therapeutic courts overcome their addiction and become functioning members of the community.  Through the efforts of Partners for Progress therapeutic courts are now operating in Anchorage, Fairbank, Bethel, Juneau and Ketchikan.

Partners worked to provide legislative information and education contributed to a series of laws that strengthened and expanded the therapeutic court program, culminating in 2006 with the passage of AS 28.35.028 that established a consistent sentencing system for therapeutic courts and included felony DUI and drug offenders for the first time. Legislation is now in place making the courts an integral part of the Alaska Court System.  And through the efforts of Partners for Progress, Alaska is recognized as one of the states with exemplary therapeutic programs.  A report published in 2005 by the National Drug Court Institute and the National Judicial College cited the Anchorage Wellness Court as an example to other courts considering establishing a therapeutic court. (“DWI / Drug Courts: Reducing Recidivism, Saving Lives” by C. West Huddleston, Director, The National Drug Court Institute and Robin Wosje, Program Attorney, The National Judicial College.)

A graduate of Anchorage Therapeutic court said,
“Before, when I was in trouble, it was the State of Alaska against me.  In this court program, the judge, the case coordinator, the treatment provider, the prosecutor, the defender and myself – are all working together against my addiction.”

Recognizing that achieving a significant reduction in incarceration and criminal recidivism will require a more comprehensive approach, Janet and other members of the Board expanded their mission to encompass support for “therapeutic justice” programs that go beyond the therapeutic courts and include sentenced offenders under the Department of Corrections. To implement this change she and Partners’ board and staff: Initiated a grant-funded program and signed an agreement with the Department of Corrections to coordinate with probation officers to provide temporary housing assistance to probationers who are reentering the community and striving to become employed and self-sufficient.Collaborated with Alaska Common Ground, the Department of Corrections, the Mental Health Trust and others to sponsor a successful Cost-Effective Justice Forum including national experts on the subject. The program incorporated extra outreach measures to involve State Legislators. Collaborated with the Anchorage Chief of Police, the Municipal Prosecutor, members of the Alaska Court System and others to plan and open Alaska’s first 24/7 Sobriety Monitoring test site on July 23, 2011. The site helped maintain the sobriety of participants who would otherwise lose custody of their children, and provided a useful example of a method of protecting the public against DUI while reducing incarceration.

In 2013 Janet led a successful effort to obtain a funding for Partners Reentry Center and worked with others to greatly expand an existing collaborative effort to reduce recidivism through reentry assistance. National research showing that combining employment with other types of assistance is most effective in cutting recidivism. Thus, the program combines employment services with transitional housing, basic needs assistance, and case management, counseling and mentoring. Opened in August 2013, Partners Reentry Center was assisting 30 to 50 reentrants a day by January, 2014.

Historic Preservation
In 1999 McCabe initiated the formation of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm Corridor Communities Association (KMTA CCA). The primary purpose was to establish a National Heritage Area (NHA) to give Congressional recognition to the outstanding and nationally significant scenic, historical and cultural values of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm region, and to provide funding for local efforts to preserve these resources. The federal law creating Alaska’s first NHA was enacted in 2009. As President of KMTA CCA, McCabe managed a federal grant to prepare the management plan for the new NHA and to assist with locally initiated projects. With the help of an excellent Program Manager and community leaders throughout the region, this work has resulted in completion of over 35 National Heritage Area projects, ranging from School District approved curricula and student field trips on NHA history and culture to historic preservation and museum development projects.

As a Board Member and Treasurer of the Association, she helped obtain and manage a grant that provided funding for historic preservation projects, museums, oral history collections and public pavilions in the seven communities of the mountainous region between Bird-Indian and Seward.  A recent accomplishment is the publication of “Trails Across Time”, a book by Kaylene Johnson providing a vivid history of this scenic and historic region of Alaska.

Hope and Sunrise Historical Society – McCabe and other like-minded people initiated the Hope and Sunrise Historical Society to help preserve Alaska’s Gold Rush history. The organization has flourished, building a museum and working with others to restore an historic mining camp and schoolhouse on the museum campus in the village of Hope. In 2009 McCabe chaired a committee that obtained a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation and restored Hope’s original log cabin schoolhouse to its 1904 appearance, complete with Victorian wallpaper and the voice of the schoolteacher describing the school and reading his students a story from McGuffey’s Reader.

McCabe served as Chair of the “We Are Alaskans Committee” of Alaska Common Ground . Working with Esther Wunnicke and a group of people who wanted to combat racism in Alaska, Janet led an effort to use television media to celebrate the diversity of Alaskans. The “We Are Alaskans” Committee has coordinated with Al Bramstedt of Channel 2 to produce two award-winning television Public Service Announcements. The Committee’s plan is to expand this effort to create a series of PSAs celebrating cultural diversity in Alaska and highlighting the message that Alaskans of different races and ethnic backgrounds share a common human bond.
As a member of Commonwealth North, McCabe served on the Executive Committee for the Urban Rural Unity Study and helped write the report.

She also served on Board of Directors, Anchorage Festival of Music and represented the Festival on the Board of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts while the Festival was a Resident Company. In this capacity, she and Manju Bhargava organized the “World in Alaska” performances, a series of Sunday afternoon events that showcased the dance and music of a wide variety of cultural groups. These performances frequently included both children and adults and were designed to encourage more widespread use of the Performing Arts Center as well as to share the cultural arts of the community.

McCabe has also been involved in her neighborhood by serving as the President of the Downtown and South Addition Community Councils and the Harvard Club of Alaska. She also served on the Board of Directors of Alaska Common Ground for decades.
Ms. McCabe has been honored by many organizations for her contributions and accomplishments. Among the Honors she received are:
Recognized by the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Certified Planners as an APA Charter Member

Award of Distinction, Anchorage Federal Executive Association, 1988, for leading the development of Alaska Public Lands Information Centers

Certificate of Appreciation, Commonwealth North, 2000, Urban Rural Unity Study

Outstanding Service Award, Alaska Bar Association, 2002

Woman of Achievement, YWCA, 2005

Jay Rabinowitz Public Service Award by the Alaska Bar Association, 2014

Janet McCabe has been married to her greatest supporter, David McCabe since 1960. Together they have raised their daughter, Sarah and two sons, Mitchell and David. The McCabes are happy to be the grandparents of three wonderful children.
As her life in Alaska has reflected, Janet McCabe believes that women should get involved in their communities and practice giving back.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Janet McCabe is gifted at bringing people together to accomplish public service goals. She has been a catalyst to improve the justice system through creation of Alaska’s therapeutic courts for addicted offenders and the development of Partners Reentry Center. In another arena, she championed congressional designation of Alaska’s first National Heritage Area. The designation has resulted in federal funding for over 70 locally initiated projects that preserve and celebrate the history and culture of the Kenai Mountains’ Turnagain Arm region.

McCabe came to Alaska in 1960 and worked professionally in community planning for state and federal entities, including the Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission, Alaska Housing Authority and National Park Service, from which she retired in 2000. Since then she has volunteered with organizations which address reduction of criminal recidivism, cultural and historic preservation, and engagement of Alaskans in public policy issues.

McCabe joined others in forming Partners for Progress, a nonprofit organization with a goal to reduce unnecessary incarceration. In 1999 they advocated to establish the Anchorage Wellness Court, Alaska’s first therapeutic court. Over the next decade, the coalition went on to change state law and secure public and private funds that expand therapeutic courts to Bethel, Juneau, Ketchikan, Palmer and Fairbanks.

Under McCabe’s leadership as board chair, they also started Partners Reentry Center in 2013 to provide support, including: employment services, transitional housing services, and counseling, to individuals leaving prison. For these efforts, Janet McCabe was awarded the 2014 Jay Rabinowitz Public Service Award by the Alaska Bar Association.

In discussing her efforts, McCabe said, “I was inspired by my father, Joseph Walker, to make the justice system fairer, and have been supported in my community involvement and career by my husband, David McCabe. We have been a team in civic engagement and family life for 58 years.”

Induction ceremony acceptance speech