Convicts discuss how to reduce recidivism
A report will urge lawmakers to add transitional programs
More than 75 ex-offenders, advocates and state officials gathered yesterday to brainstorm ways to better ease prisoners back into the community and decrease the state's recidivism rate.
The ideas, which will be passed on to lawmakers and the governor in a report expected before the end of the year, included increasing vocational and community-based furlough programs for offenders, bettering community awareness on prisoner issues and increasing alcohol and substance abuse counseling in prisons.
"Nobody wants a prison in their backyard. Nobody wants ex-offenders in their backyard. But they (offenders) are our family and friends," said Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, a community-based administrator at Oahu Community Correctional Center. "It touches everybody's lives."
The University of Hawaii conference, "Offender Re-entry: The Vital Link to Reducing Recidivism," started with a panel discussion with four former or furloughed offenders. Break-out groups were held later to tackle a variety of issues and to make recommendations.
The report for the state Legislature, which was commissioned by several prisoners' advocate groups, will be written by five University of Hawaii-Manoa graduate students.
Advocates hope it will spur lawmakers to pay attention to recidivism and back bills aimed at helping offenders get jobs, rejoin their families and communities, and stay out of trouble.
"People really need to understand that people in prison need to come back to the community," said Kat Brady, coordinator for the Community Alliance on Prisons. "As a community, we have to come up with better ideas."
In 2003, the latest year for which statistics were immediately available, Hawaii parolees incarcerated in the state had a recidivism rate between 47 and 57 percent, according to the Department of Public Safety. Hawaii parolees who served time in mainland prisons that held contracts with the state had a 90 percent recidivism rate.
"This is about going out into the community and not having the programs," said Lanette Johnson, who was convicted of forgery and several theft charges two years ago and is serving time at Ka Hale Hoala Hou No Na Wahine, a work-furlough program for women in Kalihi.
She said she's been able to get help -- learning to read, kicking a drug habit and getting vocational skills -- by asking for it.
But, she added, she's been lucky.
Many prisoners don't have access to resources and counselors that can get them on the right track to succeed once they get out into the community, she said.
"That's what they need," Johnson said, "more programs in the prison."
Maesaka-Hirata said another dimension of recidivism is that it tends to spawn "cycles of incarceration," in which an offender's children model their parent's behavior and get into trouble with the law.
She also said an offender's transition into the community isn't over when they're out of prison. They need to be supported well into their "re-entry" with drug counseling and access to vocational programs.
Currently, offenders get services while in prison but are usually on their own once they return to the community.
"That transition causes a lot of stress and anxiety," Maesaka-Hirata said. "When they're incarcerated they have a life of structure. When they come out, they don't have that structure. They start getting back into their old lives. They start sinking into that entrenched life."