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New Law Bars Hawaii Prison Officials from Canceling Visits

A new state law prohibits Hawaii prison officials from canceling prescheduled visits because of absenteeism or guard shortages, if the visitors have traveled from another island or the mainland.

Retired prison guard Kam Tanaka, now a State Representative, sponsored the bill (HB2595), which became law July 11, 2007, without Governor Linda Lingle?s signature.

?As a former prison guard, I saw firsthand how important family visitation is for both the inmates and the family members,? Tanaka said in a statement. ?Families were being denied visitation, sometimes after traveling to another island to visit an inmate, causing a financial and emotional burden.

According to Tanaka, the rate of cancelled visits at the Wailuku jail was as high as 30 percent.

The new law applies to ?special visits,? which include visitors who travel from another island or from the mainland for weekday visits during regular business hours from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., said acting Maui Community Correctional Center Warden Alan Nouchi. He said weekend visits will still be subject to staff availability.

?The importance of this bill is that it protects the rights of families and inmates to maintain contact, which I believe helps in the rehabilitation process,? Tanaka said.

Because maintaining family ties is so important to the rehabilitation effort, it?s tragic that many states, including large ones such as California and Texas where prisoners are routinely imprisoned several hundred miles from home, still regularly cancel visitation due to staff shortages.

Unaddressed by the bill is the fact that thousands of Hawaiian prisoners have been shipped to private prisons in Oklahoma and Arizona where few if any can receive visits from friends and family.

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