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KLMA in the News

Column: State fails at inmate rehabilitation

by Kat Brady, member of Hui Aloha ʻĀina o Ka Lei Maile Aliʻi
Original editorial published 12/5/2018 in the Star Advertiser

The Waikiki Health Center’s successful Pu‘uhonua Program had planned to help 480 formerly incarcerated persons between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018. Instead, 970 went through the program and out of those 970, 94 formerly incarcerated persons — or fewer than 10 percent — have gone back to jail or prison. And those 94 people were reincarcerated for violations of their terms of parole or probation, not for committing new crimes (“Program prevents former inmates from becoming homeless,” Star-Advertiser, Nov. 26).

In 2007, the state Legislature passed The Community Safety Act — Hawaii’s Reentry Law, and it became Chapter 353 (H) in the Hawaii Revised Statutes over Gov. Linda Lingle’s objection.

Sadly, 11 years later, the Department of Public Safety has done little to nothing to help people exiting incarceration reintegrate into the community. Oh yes, it did establish a reentry office, but the main focus has proven to be in building up the staff, not in providing support for the people leaving its facilities to reenter the community.

A simple thing like ensuring that people leave with the proper documents to start their lives — a law that finally passed in 2016 — is still not happening. Upon release, people who have been incarcerated are left to fend for themselves, sometimes in a world quite different than the one they lived in before being incarcerated. Certain legislators have bragged about the passage of this law, but in reality, people are still leaving facilities with no documentation today. This is nothing short of shameful.

If Hawaii truly cared about reducing recidivism and giving people second chances, the state would have embraced Act 8 (2007)/ Chapter 353 (H) over the 11 years since its passage.

That this has not happened sends a disturbing message from our executive branch, which seems to be more interested in increasing the number of government employees than in helping the community.

Now the state is proposing to build medium-security facilities in all four counties, despite the fact that more than 72 percent of all people incarcerated by the state are serving sentences here and abroad for the lowest felonies, misdemeanors, violations, petty misdemeanors, and parole and probation violations — mostly fueled by substance use disorders and other public health and social challenges. This begs the question: Why doesn’t the executive branch care? Is this deliberate indifference, lack of leadership, or gross incompetence?

As taxpayers, we should all be concerned that an executive branch agency with an annual budget of a quarter of a billion dollars has not done in 11 years what has been done in one year by a program staffed by a caring community: the successful Pu‘uhonua Program.

There are solutions and the HCR 85 Correctional Reform Task Force has developed a framework that focuses on rehabilitation using Hawaiian values, such as malama kekahi i kekahi — taking care of one another.

Congratulations to “Aunty Fran” Dudoit-Tagupa and her team and the Waikiki Health center’s Pu‘uhonua Program: they demonstrate how a program that is staffed by people who truly care and want to make a difference in our community can make things work.

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