Tuesday, February 23, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Three-strikes bill
would give rapists, child
molesters life term

Legislature Directory

By Craig Gima


A rapist, child molester or other sex offender would face life in prison without parole if convicted of a third felony sex offense, under bills before the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees.

"Those who have committed a third felony sex offense have demonstrated they are not going to be rehabilitated," said Barry Coyne, administrator of the sex offender treatment program in the Department of Public Safety.

The public defender's office opposed the "three strikes" bill, calling it "Draconian."

Public Defender Richard Pollack said there are already enhanced sentencing laws that allow a judge to impose extended prison time, including life with parole.

He also noted that in other states, the cost of imprisoning someone for life because of "three strikes" laws is taking money from education and other government programs.

Dennis Dunn of the Honolulu prosecutor's office said the price of not imposing tough sentences on repeat sex offenders would be higher. "While a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, is admittedly a harsh sentence, allowing an endless series of victims is inexcusably worse," Dunn said.

The prosecutor and Public Safety Department would also like to see a bill to tackle the problem of repeat sex offenders currently in prison and likely to commit sex crimes after they are released.There are 59 repeat sex offenders in Hawaii's prison system and 41 of them are either refusing treatment or show no hope for rehabilitation, Coyne said.

"Someone comes out either every month or every other month," he said, adding that "some show no remorse and could be diagnosed as psychopathic," he said. Coyne supports a "civil commitment" bill that would allow the state to continue to hold and treat likely repeat offenders in a secure psychiatric facility after they have served their prison time.

"In order to address both offenders who are currently incarcerated and these future offenders, you have to have some kind of civil commitment bill," Dunn said.

But the problem is that the state does not have the programs or the facilities to hold and treat sex offenders, said Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei).

Building a facility would cost between $10.6 million and $12 million, according to the departments of Public Safety and Health. Coyne estimates it would cost about $9 million annually to run a 100-bed facility which could also be used to treat others who are judged to be criminally insane. But the Department of Health, which would have to be in charge of the facility, estimates the cost at between $15 million and $20 million annually.

"I think it's something that we can look at, but it's not clear in my mind that we have to move to a civil commitment program yet," Chumbley said. "It is extremely expensive."

Civil commitment bills passed the House Health Committee, but did not get a hearing in the Judiciary or Public Safety committees and appear to be dead.

The bills now before the Senate committees are aimed at a small number of sex offenders who Coyne said will continue to commit sex crimes for the rest of their lives despite treatment.

Coyne supported the idea of lifelong parole for those convicted of a second felony sex crime noting that "some sex offenders require lifelong supervision."

But Coyne and others expressed concern about another bill that would establish "sex offender-free zones" around schools, child-care centers and playgrounds. Even the Honolulu police said it would be difficult to enforce.

The public defender's office said the proposal would bar convicted sex offenders from beaches, parks, most roads and most housing.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin