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Shutdown of female work furlough program could be temporary

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The state Department of Public Safety said a planned shutdown of a program for furloughed female prisoners working to reenter society is temporary because of expected COVID-19-related budget cuts.

Toni Schwartz, DPS’ spokeswoman, said the department is open to discussing restarting Ka Hale Ho‘ala Hou no na Wahine in Makiki once the state’s budget situation is clearer.

The program, known as The Home of Reawakening for Women, is Hawaii’s only community-based work furlough program for female prisoners working to reenter life outside of custody. It’s scheduled to close Tuesday at the end of the current fiscal year, when its contract with DPS ends.

The 30-year-old program has been operating out of the YWCA in Makiki for the past five years.

“These women are trying to better themselves,” said prisoner advocate Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons.

“It’s the only work furlough program for women in Hawaii,” Brady told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “It’s the only option that we have.”

Brady said it costs $120 per day for each participant versus the $198 daily cost to house an inmate in a state prison or jail.

“This is a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision,” Brady said in a statement. “We certainly understand the impact that the novel coronavirus is having on Hawaii’s budget, however, sending women back to prison after they have earned work furlough status is heartbreaking and will impede the progress they have worked so hard to achieve.”

Brady said the YWCA building has space for 23 participants and that closing it means the participants will be incarcerated at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua.

Schwartz said only six participants were being housed this week, and those six will find similar services through the Project Bridge program, at no additional costs or DPS staffing, at WCCC.

In a statement, Schwartz called the upcoming end of the YWCA Fernhurst furlough contract “difficult.”

“But temporary decisions have to be made that will help us get through this fiscal year.”

Had a new contract been signed, it would have cost $613,200 —including meals — for 14 female inmates for another year, Schwartz said.

“PSD cannot absorb this expenditure,” she said.

At the same time, the female inmate population at WCCC has steadily fallen since 2016 and was down to 212 inmates this week, Schwartz said.

She called the Project Bridge Program “a proven residential substance abuse reentry, furlough program within WCCC, designed to assist female offenders with opportunities to practice social learning, cognitive, and recovery skills in treatment while transitioning to the community. Family therapy, psychological services, job development/employment services, education and substance abuse after care treatment are provided as part of the transition process into the community.

“We want to emphasis again; this is a temporary measure and it is not correct to say we are ending a furlough program. PSD has had a great relationship with YWCA for the past 20 years and we would like to keep the door open for future discussion and solicitation of services once we reassess our budget situation,” Schwartz said.

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