Editorials got it wrong -- it was governor, not Legislature, who used scare tactics about prisoners
THE Star-Bulletin's recent editorials about our state's approach to its prison population make an interesting pair. Reading them together, I must question whether the facts play any role in the editors' opinions.
In "Prison release scare came from legislators" (Aug. 5), the Star-Bulletin accuses the Legislature of frightening the public. The facts do not support that conclusion.
Let us be clear as to who suggested that the bill would threaten public safety. Gov. Linda Lingle, in her July 10 Statement of Objections to the prisoner re-entry bill, claimed that Senate Bill 932 "endangers the safety of the community" and "could result in the early release of prisoners." She reiterated that position following our override of her veto; on July 11, the Star-Bulletin quoted her as saying, "This bill endangers the well-being of inmates (and) compromises the safety of the community" and "If it is a mandate, the concern is we will need to release people before they've served their time because we don't have the facilities here." On July 12, this newspaper reported that "Lingle says moving the prisoners back from mainland prisons will create overcrowding and dangerous problems here."
According to the governor, she reviews potential vetoes with her cabinet, which includes the attorney general. If she discussed the prisoner re-entry bill with the attorney general before deciding on her veto, we can only wonder what he said in that initial analysis, and why she then chose to make the inflammatory statements that generated such fear in the community.
Still, Clayton Frank, the acting director of the state Department of Public Safety, echoed the governor's remarks, saying in a July 17 commentary, "We are worried about the release of felons into the community."
BY CONTRAST, Sen. Will Espero and I pointed out that the question of returning prisoners to Hawaii is a problem of long standing that deserves the serious attention of the administration and the Legislature. And while I did say that the administration needs to figure out a way to address the matter of returning prisoners, it strains credulity to say that calling on the governor to finally take action on a pressing community issue could be considered a "scare."
In short, the governor attempted to preserve her veto and then to justify her position -- and score political points -- by frightening the public with the image of hundreds of felons set free on our streets.
Given those real facts, it was simply absurd for the Star-Bulletin to conclude that the Legislature was responsible for provoking public fear. Its insupportable conclusion is particularly striking because the criticism of the Legislature for taking action came just a week after the paper claimed -- wrongly, again -- that the Legislature is not taking action.
In its Aug. 1 editorial, "Limit recidivism by increasing isles' prison capacity," the Star-Bulletin opined that the Legislature has been unwilling to go forward with prison plans. The facts say otherwise.
It was Lingle who, while running for office, announced that she was committed to bringing the prisoners home. When she took office, there were two laws available to address the privatization of prisons, and at that point Gov. Ben Cayetano had already begun the contracting process for a private prison on Oahu. Lingle cancelled that project.
THEN, in the 2004 session, the Legislature appropriated about $30 million for eight prison-related projects. When the Legislature asked then-Director of Public Safety John Peyton what DPS needed to begin complying with the master plan produced by consultants Carter Goble Associates in 2003, he identified those priorities. That money should have expanded facilities on Maui, planned for replacement facilities on Oahu and Kauai, funded system-wide program planning and development of a new statewide correctional treatment facility, and provided additional transitional housing. In other words, the bill represented significant progress.
However, in early 2006, the Senate Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committees held an informational briefing with then-acting DPS Director Frank Lopez to inquire about the status of the appropriations. Despite months of lead time before his appearance, Lopez's written testimony came in only an hour before the hearing. It was immediately apparent to anyone following the proceedings that nothing was going to be done.
THE LEGISLATURE took action, funding high-priority projects to finally address core concerns. But the Lingle administration failed to follow through, and the problems persist.
I understand that editorial writers differ from news writers, but they share an obligation to get the facts straight. The public and those elected to serve them deserve commentary that reflects reality.
Colleen Hanabusa is president of the state Senate.