Initiative aims to improve Hawaii's juvenile justice system

Initiative aims to improve Hawaii's juvenile justice system

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The goal of a new initiative launched today is to improve Hawaii's troubled juvenile justice system by reducing crime while cutting costs. Roughly 5,000 youth are currently incarcerated in Hawaii. According to experts, about 80% of them have a substance abuse problem.

"I'm talking about ice, cocaine, methadone, heroin, you name it," said Family Court Judge R. Mark Browning.

After leaving, the majority of offenders commit another crime and return within three years. Many are incarcerated due to the lack of treatment programs, especially on the neighbor islands.

"There's only one residential drug treatment program for the whole state," said Browning. "Kids who need residential treatment sometimes need to wait three months or more."

A new working group comprised of policymakers and stakeholders will look at ways to lower recidivism while saving money.

State Senate President Donna Mercado Kim (D-Kapalama, Kali hi Valley, Aiwa) said, "It costs $190,000 for a bed to put a youth into our correction facility and that is really not acceptable."

"We need to talk about how best to target beds in secure facilities to juvenile offenders who do pose a significant threat to public safety while providing a range of alternatives for nonviolent and low risk offenders," said Mark Eschewal, chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Governor Neil Recombine said the data-driven approach will build on the earlier Justice Reinvestment Initiative which was aimed at overhauling Hawaii's adult corrections system.

"We have serious gaps and hopefully one of the things that this working group will be able to address is how we're able to better serve our children," said Browning.

The group's findings and recommendations to the legislature will be issued in December.

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