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Editorial | Island Voices

The bottom line on prison costs

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I am responding to the "Island Voices" piece written by Kat Brady ("Using private prisons costs more than it seems," Star-Advertiser, June 18).

I had a son in the Saguaro prison in Arizona. He was there for about four years; his crime involved substance abuse addiction.

As a mother and a taxpayer, Saguaro was not the place that I wanted our son to be. It was beyond reach for his three children, ages 13, 8 and 5. I agree that it does cost more, in the place of emotions and stabilizing of relationships.

The cost to retrain inmates to take their place again in society is another difficulty, when you consider that all decisions for the last years of their lives in prison were by habit. Yes, it was his choice – but when that choice no longer applies and addiction steps in, help is warranted.

He has made a new choice, to kick the habit and return to his family. It is one thing to change one’s mind. But fighting any addiction needs the steps of withdrawal and support, emotional recovery and the inner strength of discipline that is almost impossible when the very people that he is confined with all share the same problem. What kind of help and support is that? Would we place an alcoholic in a place that sells alcohol? Would we place a child abuser in a school with little children? How much more should we try and offer some other alternative than confinement?

I’m not a mother who sits idly by and complains over the lack of help. I jumped in the fire with my son to try and understand where he is coming from and help walk him out of this hell. When he returned home in April of 2009, I was ready.

I had attended certified classes at the Kaneohe Marine Base, under the auspices of ADAD, Substance Abuse Counseling Center; also, classes in suicide intervention and spirituality and substance abuse disorders.

He remained at home for almost a year, found employment and was accepting the rules and responsibilities of his daily life – but one failed relationship and he returned to the source of bondage.

An "Island Voices" article by Ronald Becker ("Room for improvement," Honolulu Advertiser, Jan. 20, 2008) stated that " … the whole idea of community sanctions is to keep the nonviolent offender out of the prison system, if possible to keep families together and allow the community to support those who were making an active contribution." He also said that "90 percent of all the incarcerated will return to the communities from which they came," an intimidating proposition and one that contributes directly to the violation of parole and re-incarceration.

I agree with Ms. Brady and Mr. Becker: Somewhere there must be another means of helping our prison population. There must be other ideas.

Here is my contribution:

» For an inmate, it is hard to find employment with a stigma attached to your resume. But if our island employers would be given a tax break or an incentive to hire these nonviolent offenders, we might have the support system they need.

» Another way to keep the numbers from rising in the prison is to allow the nonviolent offender to serve one to two years, then pay a certain amount to restitution, as a means to give back.

» Because of our economy, our schools and day care and other support system are in bad need of repair. Options of working off the remainder of an inmate’s sentence could be done by on-the-job training.

Hawaii is a place of survival, way out here in the ocean. Surely there is someone who has an alternative answer to this dilemma.

A. Lee Totten, of Kaneohe, is a holistic biblical adviser.


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