Nearly 300 federal prisoners from Hawaii to be released early

Published: Nov. 9, 2015 at 11:07 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2015 at 11:45 PM HST
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Over the next six years, roughly 6,000 inmates will be released early from prisons nationwide. Some 279 of those prisoners are from the islands, and 55 have already been released.

The early releases are meant to address growing criticism over the practice of strict mandatory sentences for drug offenders with no prior records.

One of the most high-profile Hawaii criminals affected by the new sentencing guidelines was released last week. Harold Cabbab was a 10-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department when he was caught stealing crystal methamphetamine and cocaine from an evidence locker. The ruling shaved four months off his sentence.

The Obama administration lowered federal sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders -- and applied it to prisoners who are currently locked up -- after hearing from members of the law enforcement, legal and social service communities about the tolls mandatory sentences have taken on families.

"Over the years they realized the mass incarceration wasn't working," said first assistant federal public defender Alexander Silvert. "It wasn't being a deterrent. It wasn't stopping recidivism. And it's a big cost to the taxpayer."

He said not everyone was eligible for the new guidelines. "For example, if you were a designated career offender you were automatically disqualified."

Kenneth Lawson, a University of Hawaii at Manoa Richardson School of Law professor, said the new guidelines just make more sense.

Lawson had a successful practice in Cincinnati until he got hooked on painkillers in his late 30s. A judge sentenced him to two years in federal prison after he was arrested for copping prescriptions illegally.

"Under these new guidelines now I never would have went," Lawson said.

He added that he hopes inmates being released early can move forward and do something productive in society.

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