Hawaii lawmakers introduce bills for bail reform to help ease jail overcrowding

Hawaii lawmakers introduce bills for bail reform to help ease state’s jail overcrowding problem

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last year, all of Hawaii’s jails were overcrowded.

Most were operating at least 25 percent over capacity, but some as high as 50 to 85 percent.

Across the country, experts say overcrowding at jails disproportionately impacts minority groups — in our case, Native Hawaiians — who are more likely to have to await trail from jail simply because they are too poor to afford bail.

Being locked up for weeks, months or years at a time — before they’ve even had the ability to prove their innocence or be found guilty of a crime — ultimately puts these defendants at risk of losing their jobs, their ability to cover rent or the mortgage, and in some cases, to lose custody of their children.

Two measures making their way through the state Capitol -- House Bill 175 and Senate Bill 192 -- aim to ease this financial burden by offering judges an additional option to allow for unsecured or partially secured bail.

If approved, this legislation would allow defendants who can prove that covering the cost of cash bail or a bail bondsman would cause them significant financial hardship — could instead be released until their trial date on a bond that requires payment of only a portion of the bail amount or have the bond waived completely.

Critics argue this level of bail reform could potentially risk public safety by allowing accused offenders to be released back into the community without a upfront financial obligation.

Supporters say lawmakers have written this measure to ensure that defendants are held accountable by requiring that they and their families would still be liable for bail amounts if they fail to appear in court or if they commit additional crimes while out on bail.

Public testimony will be held today at the state Capitol at 10 a.m. in room 430 and Thursday in room 16.

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