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Column: Clearing up misperceptions about parole during pandemic

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  • Edmund “Fred” Hyun (HI Paroling Authority)

    Edmund “Fred” Hyun (HI Paroling Authority)

The Hawaii Paroling Authority (HPA) is the central paroling authority for the state of Hawaii. HPA is a quasi-judicial body whose mission is to determine minimum terms of imprisonment; evaluate and grant parole and revoke for violations. HPA Field Supervision utilizes community resources as a link for parolees to reintegrate into society. The HPA board consists of five members who also make recommendations for gubernatorial pardons in concert with the director of the Department of Public Safety (DPS).

In recent weeks there has been misinformation about HPA and its role in releasing jailed inmates due to COVID-19 and the Hawaii Supreme Court’s orders, SCPW 20-0000200 and 20-0000213. The HPA’s “kuleana” lies specifically with the sentenced prison population, not the jail/pre-trial or probation populations released under SCPW 20-0000200.

Contrary to some media reports, there was no plan to mass-release 500 sentenced inmates from the state’s correctional facilities. No inmates convicted of murder, sex assault or domestic violence were released under the Supreme Court order, and no inmates were granted parole/release without a verified residence, program or placement to another jurisdiction.

Parole may be granted after a hearing by the board, taking into consideration victim statements, recommendations from attorneys for the defense and prosecution, DPS and HPA staff. If granted parole, actual release may take seven business days to six months, depending on acceptance/confirmation of residence, program, acceptance by another state, other state department with shared jurisdiction, immigration or federal sentence. Parole is an earned privilege based on completion of minimum sentence, institutional behavior, program completion and accomplishments. Granting parole is not automatic.

Through the course of a calendar year the board conducts 4,000-plus in-person hearings on charges ranging from property crimes to violent offenses against persons as well as 1,500-plus administrative (non in-person) hearings. The board’s decisions impact prison population, victims, restitution and the community at large.

Currently there are 1,500-plus individuals under parole supervision (2,800-plus confined sentenced felons). Length of supervision depends on each parolee’s remaining time on their sentence.

The profile of the convicted population is complex. Their ages range from 18 to 70-plus, with a majority being drug addicts, coupled with medical and/or mental health issues. Many are veterans suffering from PTSD, or those raised in physically and sexually abusive households whose family members also have criminal records or previously incarcerated. With no self-esteem, confidence or sense of cultural identity, they exist.

Hawaii’s courts have attempted to avert incarceration utilizing probation (in lieu of prison) with the hopes that community supervision and programs will correct the behavior. In the Judiciary’s last annual report, there were 24,000-plus misdemeanants and felons on probation. What if the courts were to revoke 10% of the felon probationers due to noncompliance and new crimes? Revocation results in incarceration adding to the crowded facilities.

Many in our community say, “Good, lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” They forget or ignore the fact, that 95% will eventually return to the streets, treated or not, with parole supervision or no supervision when “maxing out” their sentence.

The Supreme Court’s order and COVID-19 pandemic brought to the forefront the full totality of jail and prison overcrowding. But, overcrowding is nothing new. Public attitude and legislation in the 1970s enacted mandatory sentencing laws, and stricter minimum sentencing policies that overwhelmed the jail and prison facilities, forcing “band-aid” approaches to house the increasing court commitments.

Criminal behavior cannot be fixed by government alone. It takes a community and a commitment by all. It is expensive to “lock them up and throw away the key.” It is an investment to establish treatment programs, neighborhood “drop in centers,” and youth services. No matter what, the community needs to be a part of the solution.

Lock-up temporarily “masks” but does not fix the problem; neither does throwing stones.

Edmund “Fred” Hyun is chairman of the Hawaii Paroling Authority.

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