Sunday, April 21, 2002

Advocates work
to keep drug offenders
out of isle prisons

A delayed bill would put qualified
offenders in treatment programs

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

Advocates of a measure that would divert nonviolent drug offenders to treatment programs instead of prison are running television ads urging lawmakers to pass the bill.

Legislature 2002 "Adopting a policy of not sending nonviolent drug offenders to prison is a real cost-saving proposition, saving money for the taxpayers," said retired Circuit Judge Masato Doi at a gathering at the state Capitol on Friday. "Adopting this kind of policy is not being soft on crime. I look on it as actually preventing crime -- you catch it before a crime is committed."

A legislative conference committee deferred a decision on the bill to give members more time to study the measure.

The bill, which was carried over from last year's session, calls for an appropriation of $2.2 million that would cover about 200 people who have been identified as eligible for a diversion program, said Rep. Nestor Garcia, the conference committee's House co-chairman.

He noted that even if both sides reach an agreement, the program would still need funding which might not be available given the state's projected revenue shortfall in the current budget.

"I'm not one to try to put unfunded mandates into law if we don't have the money to back it up," said Garcia, (D, Waipahu). "I'm realistic and so is Sen. Kanno." Kanno (D, Ewa Beach) is the conference committee's Senate co-chairman.

"The silver lining in that is, I know that the community is ready to take them in," Garcia said. "There's infrastructure out there to take them in. We just have to wait and see how the money talks go."

Groups who back the measure, which include the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the Community Alliance on Prisons, also have started running television ads featuring Ito and Dancetta Feary Kamai, the sister of well-known Hawaii entertainer Mackey Feary, a repeat drug offender who died in prison three years ago.

Kamai said her brother suffered from depression and turned to both legal and illegal drugs.

"Mackey was sick," she said. "Was Mackey a bad person? No. Mean or dangerous? No and no. ... He was sick and needed help."

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