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Hawaii's Justice Reinvestment Law Not Achieving Lower Costs and Prisoner Counts

When Hawaii passed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in 2012 it hoped to duplicate the results of the 17 other states adopting similar initiatives, accord to a recent report by the Urban Institute.  For a while, the state did see improvement, with Hawaii saving $2.5 million by holding fewer prisoners in mainland institutions and reducing its overall prison population by 4% in 2013.

According to the Urban Institute, the data-driven program is designed to make correctional systems more efficient, reducing prisoner counts, lowering crime rates, and saving money, while still increasing public safety.  States like Texas, with the second largest state prison population, has save $684 million with a similar program, reinvested a third of that in reentry initiatives and has seen its crime rate decline.

However, in Hawaii, the reality has been somewhat disappointing, although the upward trend in costs and prisoner counts was halted. There is no question that Hawaii's correctional situation was growing more dire prior to the passage of the law.  The corrections population increased more than 18 percent between 2000 and 2011, and almost a third of the state's prisoners were housed in Arizona in 2011, costing the state $40 million.  Hawaiian prisoners incarcerated in Arizona and elsewhere on the mainland complained of poor conditions, lack of family contact, and discrimination against them by both other inmates and staff.

Current Governor David Ige, who supported JRI when he was a state senator, said recently that "the devil is in the details," and that although the concept of reform measures passed by the legislature in 2012 was still sound, "the reality is that they are not happening." Unfortunately, pretrial inmates who were released on bail still spent an average of 32 days in jails, the same as in 2011.  The number of paroles granted has remained the same, despite additional parole officers having been hired.  Community programming to alternative-to incarceration programs have not been fully implemented.

Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, did not hesitate to blame much of the problem on Ige. "It’s hard to believe that he actually supports (JRI) because nothing he's done has shown that-except that he wants to build prisons.  Anybody can say anything, but it's what they do that matters."



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