Report says cuts putting 'justice in jeopardy'

Rod Maile
Rod Maile

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new report from the State Judiciary says court cases that once took weeks are now taking months, and some people who qualify for drug treatment have no choice but to wait behind bars -- all because of budget cuts.

The report, entitled "Justice in Jeopardy," was released by the Judiciary to show the public and state lawmakers how two years of decreasing personnel and money has increased big court backlog. According to the report, the cuts have impacted all aspects of the judiciary, not only for its workers, but for just about anyone who goes before a judge or seeks relief in the courts.

The Judiciary's allocation from the state general fund was $150.5 million in fiscal year 2009. It is now $130.7 million. In those two years, the Judiciary has initiated employee furloughs, while the Legislature reduced the salaries of state judges by five percent and eliminated 79 vacant positions.

The report also says the cuts not only affect the Judiciary's workers, it also affects just about anyone who goes before a judge or otherwise seeks relief in the court system. For example, if you have a traffic or DUI case, it now could be almost half a year before your case can be heard. And an uncontested divorce may take six to eight weeks to process, compared to three to four weeks in 2009.

"The larger question is the societal cost," said Rod Maile, Administrative Director of the Courts. "What does it take when it takes longer for people to resolve their differences?

"Children who would normally be able to get services in terms of what to expect in court proceedings, they're taking longer. We have folks on probation. Some sentencing options may not be available," Maile said.

In some cases, the cuts may actually be costing money by keeping some drug offenders in prison longer while they wait to go into treatment programs. According to the report, it costs $137 a day to keep someone behind bars. It would cost just $14 a day to have them to through a treatment court program.

Court officials want lawmakers to take a close look at the 17-page report as they prepare the budget for the next two years. The Judiciary intends to seek enough funding to restore services and personnel to their original levels. It plans to release its budget proposal this Friday.

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