Honolulu prosecutor says too many violent criminals in drug probation program

Honolulu prosecutor says too many violent criminals in drug probation program
Updated: Jan. 25, 2017 at 10:08 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro believes a drug treatment probation plan for convicted criminals has too many convicts who shouldn't be there.

The program is known as HOPE Probation, which stands for Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement. State Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald touted the program in his annual State of the Judiciary Address in a joint session of the legislature Wednesday.

But Kaneshiro isn't completely sold.

"At the expense of releasing guys that we know are dangerous, having them out in public and committing violent crimes, I don't think that's a successful program," he said.

HOPE Probation was started in 204 by Circuit Court Judge Steven Alm, who has since retired and is helping to start similar programs in other states. Criminals are placed on HOPE Probation only on their drug offense record. There are many success stories. But Kaneshiro said the program has a problem.

"Sex offenders, kidnapping, assault on police officers, terroristic threatening, domestic violence defendants - these should be incarcerated and not placed on HOPE Probation," said Kaneshiro.

According to Kaneshiro's office, there were 2,021 probationers in the program in 2015. Of those, 686 of them -- or more than a third -- were violent or sex offenders that he said shouldn't have been in the program in the first place.

The offenders including serial rapist Dewitt Long, who faces an extended life sentence for sexually assaulting a young girl. Another is Phillip Osuna, who was arrested for robbing a soccer mom at gunpoint in Kapiolani Park; he has 14 convictions, including an armed purse-snatching.

Kaneshiro also contends the program is giving too many chances. "It always sounds good to say we're going to give people a second chance. But you're giving people more than second chances."

His office said in January 2014, there were 156 HOPE probation cases. Of those, 127 of the convicts had prior violations of their probation. Fifteen convicts had nine or more violations.

"If they want to be rehabilitated, have them be rehabilitated in custody," said Kaneshiro. "Not outside in the community while they are committing crimes."

Kaneshiro said the numbers support his contention that the state needs a new prison -- something that is being looked at. But Chief Justice Recktenwald said programs like HOPE Probation cost less than incarceration, and those who succeed in the program are less likely to commit additional crimes.

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