Thursday, May 17, 2001

Prisoners get
early furloughs

Overcrowding forces the state
to implement early release
for some prisoners on a
'wait and see' basis

By Rod Antone

The state has released 20 inmates since late March under an early-release furlough program designed to ease prison overcrowding.

Under the early-release furlough program, inmates are allowed to sleep at home instead of at the Laumaka work furlough facility if they meet certain requirements, according to the Department of Public Safety.

"If you've got a job and you've got a place to live, we'll authorize you to stay at home," said Ted Sakai, public safety director.

Sakai said the release program began in late March when the state's prison population was 220 inmates over its maximum.

"The difference is, they sleep at home, and that clears a bed for us," said Sakai. "Now we can move people from Halawa (High-Medium Security Prison) to Waiawa (Minimum Security Prison), and from Waiawa to Laumaka."

He said of the 20 inmates who qualified for the sleep-at-home program, all are considered to be low risk to the community. Some have already qualified for parole.

"We had two guys paroled the other day," said Hawaii State Parole Authority head Al Beaver. "They were Class C (felony) kind of guys -- drug abuse, property crime."

"The guys I saw looked pretty good to me. These guys were low risk and going to be put on parole anyway," Beaver said.

Beaver said when he first heard about the early-release furlough program, which he also calls "emergency furlough," he had concerns that his staff would be severely overloaded with cases. Beaver said his parole officers already handle more than 100 cases each.

"Some parole officers are complaining," said Beaver. "Then again, the whole system is already overburdened."

The current inmate count statewide, including Hawaii inmates on the mainland, totals 4,966, down from 5,050 inmates in March, according to Sakai.

He said the program has helped make the overpopulation situation more manageable.

In March, city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle expressed reservations about the program, saying that a well-behaved prisoner does not necessarily mean a well-behaved member of the community.

Sakai said the department is taking a "wait-and-see" approach to the program and does not know if it will continue indefinitely. However, Sakai said that he plans to implement early-release furloughs whenever the prison population gets out of hand. "We don't like to do this, but if we have to we will."

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