Experts: State's failure to conduct random checks on probationers puts public at risk

Experts: State's failure to conduct random checks on probationers puts public at risk
Published: Sep. 12, 2017 at 5:14 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 12, 2017 at 5:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Convicted criminals don't have to fear enforcement at home because random, unannounced checks by the state are hardly being done, Hawaii News Now has learned.

Of the 11,156 people on probation on Oahu, an HNN investigation showed, probation officers have done just one surprise visit this year.

And of the 359 sex offenders on probation on Oahu, probation officers have done just five.

"They're staggering. I mean, it means there is no enforcement of probation," said former Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Peter Carlisle, who calls unannounced visits a tool to keep probationers in check.

It lets "them know that you got behave because we're going to show up when you're least expecting it."

Carlisle said random visits could lead probation officers to those who have drugs or guns in the home and could prevent them from re-offending.

And recidivism is a problem.

Hawaii News Now has reported on a number of high-profile probationers who have been caught committing new, violent crimes. The Honolulu Police CrimeStoppers website shows the majority of wanted suspects listed are also on probation.

"The most important thing is that have face to face contact with that person when they're not expecting it," said Carlisle. "That will put them either on the right track or it will put them in jail."

Defense attorney Bill Harrison agrees.

"There are certain individuals that routinely violate," Harrison said. "Some of them are very violent those people and generally should be supervised and should be involved in home visits to make sure they're not a danger to the public."

The probation system is run by the courts, and judges and probation officers with large caseloads oversee those released.

Defense attorney Bill Harrison said while there are those on probation who need random checks, there are others who have proven they are no longer a risk. "Then it's just a waste of time to go and have the probation officers, who don't have a lot of time, to go out and visit those folks," he said.

The state Judiciary sent Hawaii News Now a statement for this story that reads in part, "Conducting unannounced visits is time intensive and, given staffing challenges, priorities and the primary goal of improving the defendant's behavior, it is generally not the best use of our probation officers' time."

Critics of the system say the officers depend too much on urine tests to determine drug violations but, they say, that won't show those who are selling drugs or keeping weapons in the home.

The Judiciary also told Hawaii News Now that probation officers are not trained law enforcement, so safety is a factor because they are not armed.

The statement continued that they need verifiable information that the probationer has violated the terms of probation before doing an unannounced visit. However, critics say, probation officers don't need probable cause to conduct surprise visits.

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