Keep our money here -- build prisons in Hawaii
WHEN it came to the "three strikes" bill that became Act 81 this year, to the majority of legislators and the governor, nothing could have been more clear than the desire to lock up the repeat violent offender for 30 years to life. However, statistics show that mandatory sentencing fails to deter crime. Therefore, we need to take another look at the prison system and figure out a way to best lock up those who cannot be rehabilitated.
The problem I see with the prison system is that repeat criminals seem to do so without fear of consequences. For instance, by the time the third strike comes along, the criminal is either in need of elderly care or doesn't mind being locked up to begin with. With all the perks that go along with not having to work for a living, what better way to spend your last days than to get free meals and health care without having to pay taxes, punch a time clock or undergo a grueling commute?
Our three-strikes law is patterned after California's. But the difference between California and Hawaii is that California has a much larger and wealthier tax base to shoulder the costs. Locking up inmates for 30 years to life is really locking up those who are merely seeking free health care until they die. Heck, an inmate can get a diploma, work out at the gym, visit with family and friends, and see a doctor without ever having to pay the bill.
IT COSTS $160 per day to incarcerate an able-bodied inmate. Multiply that by 30 years and you get $1,752,000 per inmate in today's dollars. Factor in inflation, and we are more likely to spend around $3 million per inmate on the 30-year sentence. You and I, plus generations to come, will bear this cost.
Another factor to consider is that more than $50 million a year is spent by Hawaii's taxpayers to outsource inmates to privately run prisons on the mainland. Housing inmates is big business. Why not pay our own people to run the show?
If we funded all of our prison operations locally, whether public or privately run or both, the results would permit prisoners to heal within their family's reach as well as decrease the recidivism rate. This means that the likelihood of a criminal committing another crime when doing their time here lessens. Statistics substantiate this as a fact.
THE SOLUTION, then, is to build more prisons so everyone can do their time the first time around before the second, let alone a "third strike," is even struck.
I introduced House Bill 3104 this last session to build more prisons in Hawaii, but it was not heard. The governor has abandoned her past commitment to build a prison here. I disagree with her and believe a prison needs to built and operated by our own residents. Since our prisons are filled to capacity and have become, in essence, revolving doors, we need another prison now.
I even introduced House Concurrent Resolution 91 requesting the Navy to work with the state to convert decommissioned naval ships as prison facilities so that prison overcrowding cannot be used as an excuse for early release.
The public often questions why a car thief is back out in the street time and time again. In response, we demand tougher sentencing laws and lobby our legislators to follow suit. If we are to do it right, then we should do it across the board for all offenses.
REALITY, though, has it this way: By passing the "three strikes" bill, all nonviolent offenders have the potential to be out in no time to make room for a new violent inmate. Crimes such as stealing cars, damaging property, industrial theft, evading taxes or other white-collar crimes will see less time, and these offenders most likely never will serve their original sentences.
By building more prisons, we can honestly say, "If you do the crime, you will do the full time, first time around." The passage of the "three strikes" bill is really a "feel good" bill. It makes wonderful speeches. But in my view, we need to build more prisons. We need real solutions, not political rhetoric.
Rida Cabanilla, a Democrat, represents state House District 42 (Ewa Beach, Ewa, West Loch Estates, Honouliuli, Lower Waipahu).