Doubling of inmates on furlough could bring more escapes

Doubling of inmates on furlough could bring more escapes
Leslie Dabis
Leslie Dabis
Max Otani
Max Otani

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state Public Safety Department official told Hawaii News Now Monday that the public should expect more prison inmates to walk away from their work furlough programs since the program has more than doubled in recent months.

Police arrested inmate Leslie Dabis, 38, Friday night, after he was accused of assaulting and kidnapping his ex-girlfriend in Kapolei and assaulting the man she was with earlier that day.

Less than six months away from possible parole, Dabis had walked away from a prison work furlough program on Jan. 14.

"His prison adjustment showed that he wasn't a problem and he was nearing pretty close to the end of his sentence where he would be eligible for parole," said Deputy Public Safety Director for Corrections Max Otani.

Otani said prisons officials didn't consider Dabis dangerous, because he was in prison for dealing drugs, auto theft and driving without a license, but no violent offense.

About 216 male inmates are enrolled in work furlough programs on Oahu, and in the last fiscal year, just seven of them or about three percent "walked away" or "escaped" for a significant period of time, prisons officials said.

The number of Oahu inmates in furlough programs has doubled since November to alleviate prison overcrowding, Otani said.

"Although I don't wish this, but there's a good chance that, with a greater population on furlough, we may have more walk aways, which is unfortunate.  But I think it's a calculated risk and furloughs are something that we really need, and I think that it's beneficial to everyone," Otani added.

When prisoners walk away from a furlough program, they are not "escaping" or breaking out of a secured facility.  Instead, they often fail to return from searching for a job or from a day job in the community when they are living in a minimum security facility.

Corrections officials tell police but do not alert the public every time a prisoner walks away from a furlough program.

"We tend not to do a public announcement.  We would like to give the law enforcement officers some time to apprehend this person without having him aware that everyone's looking for him," Otani said.

Prison officials do notify the victims of the inmate's crimes that he's escaped.

A great majority of work furlough escapees -- 90 percent -- turn themselves in or are arrested, usually within 24 hours, Otani said.

"Going out to the public every time someone fails to return, if they're a little bit late, may cause undue stress on the public, if they were late because of the bus schedule or a flat tire or they were held back at work or something," Otani said.  For instance, last week, an inmate worked two hours of overtime at one employer that forgot to notify public safety officials the inmate was going to be two hours late returning from his job, he said.

He said Dabis' reason to break furlough only months before his potential release is typical of other furlough escapees.  Most of them are having problems with wives, girlfriends or ex-partners and walk away from furlough programs to speak with or confront them.

"The situations go one with their lives and impulsive behaviors and they react to it, and they end up getting charged with a new crime," Otani said.

And he said the state needs to slowly re-introduce inmates into civilian life.

"We need to get these people out into the community so there's better success in transitioning back into society," Otani said.

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