Judiciary suspends drug testing for HOPE probationers on Oahu

Coronavirus puts temporary halt to drug testing of HOPE probation inmates

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to court staff, the Hawaii Judiciary suspended drug testing for hundreds of HOPE probationers on Oahu.

But prosecutors and legal experts said that’s a recipe for disaster.

“The whole purpose of testing was to prevent the offender from relapsing. The goal is to stop the drug abuser from using drugs and hopefully rehabilitate the person,” said Randal Lee, Hawaii Pacific University criminal law professor and a retired Circuit Court judge.

“We don’t want the offender to regress into using more drugs and get into trouble.”

Right now, there are 2,000 people in the state’s HOPE probation program -- which gives even violent criminal and drug offenders a chance to live in the community -- so long as they stay out of trouble and have regular drug tests.

But in an order issued on March 16, Circuit Judge Mark Browning suspended all non-essential, face-to-face meetings for a majority of the people in the HOPE program. Now, only HOPE probationers who are on a court-mandated drug treatment plan are being tested.

The Judiciary defended the move, saying HOPE participants are still “being actively supervised by their probation officers.”

“(The probation officers) can and have been taking action if defendants are non-compliant," a Judiciary spokeswoman said in an email.

But acting Honolulu Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto said its difficult to monitor defendants if there’s no testing.

“What does that mean if you’re not seeing them face-to-face, you’re not drug testing them? Hello did you take drugs today? No? There’s no substitute for testing,” Nadamoto said.

“What is the purposed of HOPE if there are no consequences ... ? The whole purpose of HOPE appears to be nullified.”

Meanwhile, HOPE probationers -- who were in custody for violating the rules -- were among the first released from jail due to threat of COVID-19 infection.

Copyright 2020 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.