Judge known for 'tough love' probation retires to expand program on mainland

Judge known for 'tough love' probation retires to expand program on mainland
Published: Aug. 29, 2016 at 8:57 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 30, 2016 at 1:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii judge who started the HOPE probation program is retiring from the bench so that he can help expand the program in other states.

Judge Steven Alm started HOPE -- Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement -- in 2004.

The high-intensity drug treatment plan closely monitors convicted criminals, providing them opportunities to get into rehab and get off of probation sooner.

Variations of it are now in 31 states. And now, Alm will be moving to the mainland to help guide other judges.

The program has been criticized before, including when repeat offenders get back into trouble.

But Alm says the public only only hears about HOPE probationers who don't succeed. The state doesn't notice the thousands of others who have successfully completed HOPE probation.

Plus, he says, research shows probationers on HOPE are 22 percent less likely to re-offend than those who are not.

"If they're not sent to prison, they're going to be on probation so the question is, do you watch them closely in HOPE or not so closely?" says Alm, who says HOPE provides more accountability.

"It's tough love. They really see me, in many ways, as somebody who's going to hold them accountable."

Alm says there are a few who have come through the system that he remembers well.

Dennis Tamura is one of them. Tamura, who had been addicted to heroin for decades, kept violating terms of HOPE probation.

Alm sent him to prison for sevent months and during that time, Tamura realized he needed a change. His daughter sent him a letter in jail, telling him how his addiction negatively affected her life.

"I went to treatment at Hina Mauka (drug treatment center) and that helped to start changing my thinking and the way I behave," Tamura said.

He said he realized how many people he disappointed because of his addiction and has now been drug-free since 2013.

"The judge had hope in me, and made me realize ... I still can get out," Tamura said.

Tamura went on to get a certificate to be a substance abuse counselor and is working with former inmates and recovering addicts through his church, Agape Christian Fellowship. His daughter works there too, counseling families of those struggling with addiction.

Alm beams with pride when he talks about HOPE and stories like Tamura's, and says he is excited to help promote and teach other judges about the program.

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