State of Hawaii

Relapses high for
inmates from isles

It is one reason Hawaii should
build more prisons here,
a state official says

By Pat Omandam

Most of the Hawaii inmates serving time at mainland prisons have violated parole and are now back in custody, says interim state Public Safety Director James Propotnick.

As a result, there is a 90 percent recidivism rate for Hawaii parolees from mainland prisons, compared with a rate of between 47 percent and 57 percent for Hawaii parolees incarcerated locally.

"I found that figure to be startling because I was under the impression that our inmates on the mainland were getting proper treatment, proper programs to address whatever their shortcomings were," said freshman state Rep. Glenn Wakai (D, Moanalua Valley).

"What's the public good of us sending them to the mainland to just house them there so they can come back X number of years later and go and prey on us again?" Wakai said.

Propotnick told Wakai and other House Finance Committee members at a budget briefing yesterday that the nearly total recidivism rate for mainland-housed inmates is a major reason why the state should bring them home to a new 1,200-bed prison.

"We would be foolish not to," said Propotnick, who was named to the job Thursday by Gov. Linda Lingle.

Propotnick told the committee that prison overcrowding is the department's biggest problem.

Currently, the state spends about $25 million a year to house 1,347 inmates out of state. An additional 3,722 inmates are housed in state, but that is still above the state's capacity of 3,487, he said.

The total inmate population at the end of 2002 was 5,093.

"We worked diligently to manage our population in the past year, but we have not been able to resolve the chronic overcrowding problem that has plagued our department for the past two decades," Propotnick said.

State Rep. Colleen Meyer (R, Laie) said the implication of the 90 percent recidivism rate of mainland parolees is that they are not being rehabilitated.

Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, agreed the out-of-state inmates need a network of support to prevent them from returning to prison.

She noted testimony from public-safety officials yesterday that 85 percent of Hawaii inmates need substance-abuse treatment.

"They have not had the advantage of being close to their support system," Brady said.

"And to me, recovery is totally dependent on their support system so that you have other people you can go to when you feel like you're at risk," she said.

But Brady does not think a new prison is the best way to help inmates. She favors community-based treatment centers for parolees with substance-abuse problems.

That will save prison space for people who actually need to be separated from society, Brady said.

A state law enacted last year that mandates first-time nonviolent drug offenders get drug treatment first before prison time has helped a dozen inmates secure early release as of mid-November.

However, stringent eligibility requirements have slowed the process.

The Cayetano administration was negotiating with a private developer late last year to build a 1,200-bed prison next to the Halawa prison complex. But a deal could not be reached before the Lingle administration took over, because of an unexpected $7 million to $8 million needed to improve Halawa's sewage system.

The state Department of Public Safety is seeking a $3.5 million increase in 2004 and a $3.1 million increase in 2005 to its $144.3 million general fund biannual budget.

Department of Public Safety

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