Saturday, April 24, 1999

State of Hawaii

Some prisoners
might get out early

It may be the only alternative
to new prisons, Cayetano says

By Craig Gima


Gov. Ben Cayetano says it is time to seriously consider early parole of prisoners and changing Hawaii's mandatory sentencing laws as a way to reduce the need for a new prison.

"We have not done it in the past because we thought we could just build prisons, but given the opposition to prisons, I think we need to consider that," Cayetano said.

Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, however, said Hawaii's tough sentencing laws have helped to dramatically reduce crime.

"When you're having those kinds of success, it's not time to change the course of what you're doing," Carlisle said.

Cayetano has asked acting Public Safety Director Ted Sakai to look at prisoners who are nearing the end of their terms and others who can be safely released from prison.

"We've got some first-timers who've been sentenced for 20 years, and I think that came about because there's a huge cry for stiffer sentences," the governor said.

But he said long incarceration "may not necessarily prove to be productive for rehabilitation."

Public defender Richard Pollack agreed with Cayetano that some mandatory sentencing laws, especially those for possession of crystal methamphetamine, or ice, should be changed.

"It's an excellent idea," Pollack said. "I think in certain areas our criminal laws have gone overboard and eliminated far too much discretion from the sentencing judge. Let's trust our judges. They are capable."

Carlisle thought mandatory sentencing laws for ice are appropriate.

"Take a look at the social consequences of ice use in the state of Hawaii," he said. "I'm not so sure that you want to say we want to get less tough on ice."

Sakai and Cayetano said it is difficult to determine which inmates could be released early because the prison system does not have the computers to track prisoners efficiently.

Sakai said it is likely some prisoners will have to be released early to relieve overcrowding while a prison is built. But he said even with early releases, Hawaii will still need a new medium-security facility.

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