Friday, March 23, 2001

More furloughs
could be solution to
prison overcrowding,
director says

One concern is that more
parole officers would
be needed

By Rod Antone

In response to several recent escapes from Oahu prisons, Public Safety Director Ted Sakai said, "When it rains, it pours."

But when it comes to the state's prison population, Sakai said the problem is overflowing.

"We've got the largest prison population we've ever had -- 5,048, to be exact," said Sakai. "Monday's head count at Halawa (Correctional Center) showed we were 202 inmates over our max. We've reached the point that we've got to do something."

Sakai suggested that "something" be an expansion of the Public Safety Department's furlough program. The department would consider inmates with no more than one to three months left on their prison terms for some sort of supervised release, he said.

The question is, how many inmates?

"If he's talking about 50 more inmates, fine. If he's talking 100 to 200, we got some problems," said Al Beaver, chairman of the Hawaii Paroling Authority.

"We're about 125-to-1 when it comes to the number of inmates per parole officers," said Beaver. "We may have to ask the governor for emergency hires -- about 20 new staff members."

Beaver said that if Sakai provides him with a list of furlough candidates, he would try and assist by moving up the parole hearing dates so they could review the status of those inmates for supervised release.

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said that if supervised release is to be done, Sakai's plan is the "least painful and most responsible way to do it."

However, Carlisle does have some concerns.

"There is a real question of how well someone does in prison vs. how well they do in the community," said Carlisle. "One does not always mean the other."

Carlisle also noted that if overcrowding is a problem, it costs an estimated $40 to $50 dollars a day to house an inmate on the mainland, compared with $80 to $90 in Hawaii.

Sakai said many of the inmates he has in mind for supervised release are on the mainland already and are "ready to come home."

"That way, we can send higher-security inmates to the mainland in their place," said Sakai. "The goal is to maximize capacity without endangering public safety."

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