State tackles prison problems

Published: Jun. 29, 2011 at 2:27 AM HST|Updated: Jun. 29, 2011 at 2:50 AM HST
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Joe Booker
Joe Booker
Jodie Maesaka-Hirata
Jodie Maesaka-Hirata
Neil Abercrombie
Neil Abercrombie

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's no secret. Hawaii's prisons have problems. In the past week four inmates escaped from the Waiawa Correctional Facility and the state awarded a $136.5 million dollar contract to house nearly 2,000 inmates at prisons in Arizona because Hawaii does not have sufficient prison space to keep them in the islands.

Tuesday Governor Neil Abercrombie announced an ambitious effort to cut cost while reducing the number of inmates being sent to the mainland, lowering recidivism, and preventing crime.

It is being called "Justice Reinvestment."

"Justice Reinvestment will help us identify where our dollars are best spent on treatment needs that will reduce the likelihood of inmates offending again once they're released," Abercrombie said.

Approximately one-third of Hawaii's prison population is in mainland facilities.

"There is a consensus that we must eliminate our reliance on outside state facilities … return these inmates home to their island state so that we can start to rebuild families and break the cycle of incarceration, and also to work on prevention of recidivism, and of course most importantly increase public safety," added Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, Director of the Department of Public Safety, which oversees Hawaii prisons.

Members of the three branches of government (the executive, legislative, and judicial) have pledged to work together to improve public safety while making the most of scarce resources.

"What you need is good data. What you need is a solid understanding of precisely what it is you are dealing with. So what we want to do is move away from impressionistic ideas about what we should do in Hawaii and try to have as solid a base for recommendations as we can get," Abercrombie said.

Once prison and crime date is analyzed the state can adopt new policies and laws aimed at rehabilitating inmates, reintegrating inmates, and incarcerating more of them at home in Hawaii.

The four inmates who escaped from the Waiawa (minimum security) Correctional Facility early Sunday morning were back in custody within 48 hours. But their escape frightened people in communities across the island and it raised questions about how they just "walked away" from the minimum security facility.

"Well I think one thing we can do is sort of update our accountability process. Maybe be more accountable, more supervision at the institution," said Joe Booker, Deputy Director of the Department of Public Safety.

The newly formed coalition of politicians, law enforcement officers, corrections specialists, and judges will meet for the first time Thursday at the Ala Moana Hotel. They will examine how similar efforts have been successful in other states.

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