Tuesday, November 24, 2015         

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State to examine inmate return policy

The study will focus on ending the use of mainland prisons

By Derrick DePledge


Hawaii is preparing a data-driven look inside the criminal justice system to help determine whether the state can stop sending prisoners to mainland prisons.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in December that he would work quickly to bring back the roughly 1,700 prisoners at private Corrections Corporation of America prisons in Arizona. But the state has signed a new contract with CCA to pay $45.5 million a year to keep prisoners at Saguaro Correctional Center and Red Rock Correctional Center through June 2014.

Abercrombie, joined by Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald and others at a news conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, said the state would conduct a "justice reinvestment" initiative to analyze data and help guide state policy.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center, which will provide Hawaii with advice, has worked on similar initiatives in more than a dozen states to develop policies to reduce recidivism and contain state spending on corrections.

"We're, as everyone knows, firmly committed to eliminating the need to send individuals out of state with regard to prison circumstances," said Abercrombie, a former probation officer, who declined to give a timetable for returning prisoners.

"We want to reunite families. We want to try and reintegrate people into society and, in some instances, integrate them for the first time into society. We want to reduce recidivism."

Carlisle, a former Hono­lulu prosecutor, said Hawaii has too often been "woefully inadequate" at examining criminal justice statistics. "At the very least, we'll understand what works and what doesn't work," he said.

Hawaii has sent prisoners to the mainland for incarceration since 1995 because many of the state's prisons are overcrowded, and mainland prison space is less expensive. But the state brought female inmates home after reports of abuse on the mainland. Abercrombie's promise to bring back all prisoners came after a lawsuit alleging that guards in Arizona were mistreating male inmates.

About one-third of the state's prisoners are housed in Arizona.

"It may be cheaper now, per day, to keep an offender out on the mainland or the U.S. continent versus Hawaii, but if you look at the long-term unintended consequences, it affects the families," said Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, director of the state Department of Public Safety.

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