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Incarceration system needs overhaul

By Lorenn Walker


We can easily improve our corrections system without more money, and without building a new Maui prison, by redistributing what we already spend in wiser ways.

Hawaii currently spends around $200 million a year on imprisoning about 6,000 people, about 2,000 of whom are in a private prison in Arizona.

Many, including Gov. Neil Abercrombie, realize it is "dysfunctional" and harmful for rehabilitation to incarcerate people thousands of miles from Hawaii.

It is time we appreciated our strengths, including the wisdom of the Native Hawaiian people, in addressing our prison problem. Hawaiian culture has valued healing and reintegration more than the failed Western approaches we have been using. A larger part of our corrections budget should be spent on integrating people back into our community, instead of mainly locking people, if we want to reduce repeat crime.

Hawaii has a rich history of finding ways to help people deal with problems in restorative ways. These approaches lead to healing and resiliency. Current restorative interventions have been tested and evaluated, and shown to strengthen families, the professionals working with them, and our community.

Hawaii pioneered 'Ohana Conferencing to address child welfare problems. This group process is based on Hawaiian and Maori family interventions. It is a simple process, but not easy to provide. Family and friends sit in a circle with loved ones having difficulties with their children, along with any professionals working with them, to find ways to keep children safe. Another successful intervention is the E Makua Ana Youth Circle, a process for foster youth to plan for independence and leaving state custody. Thousands of circles and conferences have been successfully provided to countless youth and people in our state.

Six years ago a similar process, Huikahi Restorative Circles, was developed for imprisoned people and their families. More than 340 people have participated in these circles, including prison staff, and have found them positive. The children and parents of the imprisoned people have addressed the trauma and pain they have suffered by having a parent or child incarcerated. Giving families, who are usually crime victims, opportunities to heal makes our community stronger. Research also shows the circles reduce repeat crime and substance abuse, and even when there is a relapse, the families continue being highly satisfied with the process.

In 1973 Hawaii reportedly had the lowest recidivism rate in the United States. Russell Takaki, well known in Hawaii's surfing history, was the head of our parole office in the days of its 5 percent recidivism rate. Takaki valued rehabilitation and believed people could change. The Russ Takaki Restorative Parole Officer Award has been instituted to honor and celebrate other parole officers with similar strengths. This year Hawaii parole officer Jo DesMarets received the award.

Changing the way we use our corrections dollars would be simple, but not easy to do. We have the resources, and now need the leadership and the commitment to make the changes.

Lorenn Walker is a public health educator and former deputy attorney general who represented prison system and other state agencies. Her website is at lorennwalker.com.

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soundofreason wrote:
"A 2002 study survey showed that among nearly 275,000 prisoners released in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years, and 51.8% were back in prison.[23] However, the study found no evidence that spending more time in prison raises the recidivism rate, and found that those serving the longest time, 61 months or more, had a significantly lower re-arrest rate (54.2%) than every other category of prisoner." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States#Recidivism>>>>>>SO #1 the LONGER they are in prison the LESS likely of recidivism. #2 People IN prison have a ZERO % chance of recidivism as long as they ARE in prison creating NO more victims. Tired of these mamby pamby - unaccountable- black tax hole "programs" that "maybe" help a SLIVER or the FEW exceptions to the rule while society is left to be victimized REPEATEDLY by the majority. ALL of whom CHOSE their career path.
on November 13,2011 | 02:28AM
cajaybird wrote:
sound of reason: you are just that! Of course, you're confusing matters with those pesky facts.
on November 13,2011 | 10:43AM
soundofreason wrote:
Silly me
on November 13,2011 | 11:45AM
clan4irish wrote:
Prison is no longer punishment - it is an inconvenience with comforts. Cable TV, law libraries, fitness rooms, 3 square meals a day, free medical, etc. Hawaii could cut their prison budget by 90% ($180 million dollars) a year by sending felons to prison in Turkey, Indonesia, Malyasia, etc. Once they were released, they would NEVER EVER want to go back to a REAL prison. The recidivism rate would approach zero. Plus tax dollars could be used for more worthwhile programs, like reducing taxes!
on November 13,2011 | 05:32AM
soundofreason wrote:
Sheriff Joe. Look him up. The man with the plan.
on November 13,2011 | 10:36AM
cajaybird wrote:
Sound of reason: Can't believe your comment. Exactly what I was thinking! Hawaii has the perfect climate for a "tent city". The $'s Hawaii officials project are required are staggering. I'd bet every one of them supports the rail projects as well. Prisoners can be incarcerated and some rehabilitated at a fraction of the projected costs. Just follow the money.
on November 13,2011 | 10:57AM
cojef wrote:
Statistical numbers are just that, a numbers game. Combining prisoners together without regard to the types of crime committed, and then determining the recidivism rate. Certain type of criminal element cannot be reformed as they have a predisposition to commit the same crime. i.e. sexual, arsonist, and serial criminals, just to name a few. In the end, place "them" in a cell and throw away the key, or forget them. Agree with "clan4irish", in that the prison system of today, has been taken over by the "reformist group" and are coddling prisoners with the niceties, that are lacking in many homes in "suburbia USA". 50 million without health insurance in our country, but all prisoners are entitled to the best medical care money can buy while being incarcerated. I have in some distorted way thought that if and when I have an illness requiring expensive medical care, commit a Federal crime and be incarcerated with Bernie Madoff in a country club atomosphere prison.
on November 13,2011 | 02:02PM
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