Police: Drug treatment releases for offenders an invitation to escape

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last August, Bryson Bagio led police on a car chase around Oahu, one that came to a crashing end on the H-1 Freeway in Aiea and wreaked havoc on the rush hour commute in the process.

Already a convicted felon before the car chase, Bagio hit multiple vehicles during the pursuit before jumping from an overpass wall while trying to evade police.

He was hospitalized for his injuries and has since pleaded no contest to charges from the incident. He's scheduled to be sentenced later this month, but in the meantime, Bagio has been granted a 30-day release to a drug treatment center.

It's a practice that is frustrating law enforcement officials across the state.

"It's a revolving door, we call it," says Tenari Maafala, president of SHOPO, the state's police union. "We can arrest a felon today, they'll be out tomorrow, and here we go again."

Employees at the treatment centers are counselors, not typically trained to treat criminal patients. In many cases, the patients simply walk away from the rehab centers.

It's exactly what Amery Kahale-Sugimura did last month.

Kahale-Sugimura, often called the 'Gingerbread Man' because he instigates chases with police, is a career criminal. Despite more than 90 prior arrests, and about two dozen convictions, a judge released Sugimura to rehab last month.

On his very first day at the facility, Sugimura walked away. His departure triggered a manhunt, one that took officers from multiple agencies -- and a SWAT standoff -- to get him back in custody.

But Kahale-Sugimura is far from the only one. Last month, convicted felon Charles Kosi left a rehab center and breached security at Honolulu International Airport. He died during the arrest.

"Protect the public," says former Honolulu mayor and city prosecutor Peter Carlisle. "That's not being done in these circumstances. We have over and over and over again, re-offend, re-offend, re-offend."

Experts say the drug treatment curriculum needs to be provided to offenders immediately after their arrests and should be offered in jails, like the Oahu Community Correctional Center, where defendants are waiting to be sentenced.

Counselors should be on hand to assess all of them, filtering out which defendants can actually benefit from drug treatment services.

Alan Johnson, Chief Executive Officer at Hina Mauka Treatment Center, says assessment can help with overcrowding in the facilities by filtering out the defendants who will take advantage of treatment.

"People who have a drug addiction, who are doing criminal activity to support their drug addiction, you take away the drug addiction, they're no longer criminals," said Johnson. "Then you have other people who are more criminal and violent, you take away their drug addiction and now you have a sober criminal."

Johnson says those who choose a life of crime instead of services can be kept behind bars and off the streets.

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