Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, and state lawmakers Sen. President Donna Mercado Kim and Rep. Mele Carroll Wednesday announced the launch of a bipartisan probe of the state’s flawed juvenile justice system.
The effort consists of a new inter-branch working group that will analyze the state’s juvenile justice system and develop data-driven policy recommendations for the 2014 Legislature.
In a news release issued by the governor’s office, Abercrombie said, “It costs a tremendous amount of money to put juvenile offenders into state custody.” He continued, “We need to take a hard look at our data, find better outcomes, and identify more cost-effective ways to handle our juvenile offenders.”
Many of the youth are contending with substance abuse and mental health issues as well as family dysfunction. A significant number are in custody due to the lack of accessible treatment services, especially on neighbor islands. Each commitment placement costs taxpayers more than $190,000 per year, per youth (averaging 60 youth per year). Despite this substantial cost, the majority juvenile offenders who exit the state’s correctional facilities reoffend and return within three years.
Carroll, who took part in the announcement on behalf of Speaker Joseph Souki, said in the release: “With the amount of money we spend locking up each juvenile offender and the high recidivism rates, it is clear we are not getting an adequate public safety return on our juvenile justice investment.” The chair of the House Human Services committee added, “We must focus our correctional resources on serious offenders who pose a public safety risk and we must stop the cycle of recidivism for youth who want to turn their lives around. We must also do a better job for our youth on the neighbor islands who are being sent to Honolulu due to a lack of resources in the other counties.”
The working group is composed of policymakers, practitioners and stakeholders. The group will study Hawaii’s data, review evidence about what works in juvenile justice, and develop policy options to improve outcomes and reduce costs. State leaders have charged the working group with issuing a consensus report to all three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) this December that will include research findings and specific policy recommendations.
Last year, Hawaii enacted comprehensive criminal justice legislation with the goal of improving public safety while keeping costs in check. Act 139 (SB2776) and Act 140 (HB2515) were designed to lower recidivism, increase efficiency in the adult criminal justice system, and hold offenders accountable to victims for their crimes.
The new laws have already shown encouraging results, including a 5 percent drop in the prison population. Building on the success of this effort, known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), Hawaii will use the same data-driven and evidence-based process to analyze the juvenile justice system and further maximize its public safety investments.
The working group will receive intensive technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project. Pew and its partners have provided similar assistance to more than two dozen states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Oregon, Texas and Vermont.