The state and the legislature are approaching decisions on the future of our prison system on two separate tracks.
Just how this process is unfolding was the subject of my Civil Beat column this week (“Ian Lind: Count On Hawaii To Ignore Logical Prison Report/In the rush to build a new prison, the Legislature is likely to shunt aside the work of a task force it created just last year“).
On the one hand, the legislature last year approved over $5 million for planning of a replacement for the aging Oahu Community Correctional Center, the state’s largest jail. And a new bill moving ahead this year calls for setting aside that plan, and instead beginning planning on a new and much larger prison. The current prison at Halawa would then be used as the new jail. That new plan got the quick endorsement of the head of the state’s prison system, despite the obvious problem that facilities are normally designed around their intended functions, and so the design of the current prison is much different than what is needed in a jail. And a new larger prison is likely to cost upwards of $1 BILLION, a figure likely to make even stalwart proponents gasp.
But last year’s legislature also created a task force charged with reviewing correctional “best practices” in use elsewhere that could be used to reduce Hawaii’s jail and prison population, allowing any new facilities to be downsized rather than enlarged. The task force, unfortunately, was not endowed with any budget, but has been meeting since last June without benefit of funding.
The task force has released an interim report, with its final report and recommendations due prior to the opening of the 2018 legislative session. It’s well worth reading.
Here’s my brief summary:
“To improve outcomes and bring costs under control, Hawaii must chart a new course and transition from a punitive to a rehabilitative correctional model,” the task force says in its preliminary report. The move is driven by “the fact that all but a few of the men and women who go to prison will one day return to the community.” Therefore, the task force says, the question for public policy is how to use their time in prison to shape their lives for the better and change the behavior that landed them in prison.
The report proposes moving away from viewing prison as punishment and instead treating incarcerated persons “with aloha” as a core value.
One key is education and training for prison and jail workers, and the task force recommends creation of a corrections academy for employees in both the executive and judicial branches.
It recommends setting targets for reducing the prison population through diversion programs, bail reform and efficiencies in processing pre-trial detainees, and “focused, evidenced-based rehabilitative programs for those in prison.”
“The question should not be how large a new jail needs to be, but how small the jail can be with successful diversion programs? Overbuilding would be one of the worst mistakes the State could make,” the report states.
In any case, a messy issue. Check my take in Civil Beat. Feel free to comment here.