[ OUR OPINION ]
Higher recidivism rate
raises costs to state, society
ALTHOUGH sending Hawaii inmates to mainland prisons is cheaper in the short term, the practice has long-term costs in that it appears to do little to help prisoners escape the cycle of crime. Startling information shows that those who served time on the mainland have a significantly higher rate of recidivism. With the new administration's emphasis on rehabilitation, state legislators and Governor Lingle should consider bringing island prisoners back home.
THE ISSUEHawaii inmates who serve their terms on the mainland more often return to criminal life than those who serve in state facilities.
James Propotnick, the interim public safety director, told lawmakers this week that 90 percent of those who were incarcerated on the mainland return to commit crimes again. This compares to a 47 to 57 percent recidivism rate for inmates housed in Hawaii.
Crowded conditions at Hawaii prisons and a lack of new facilities have forced the state to dispatch about 1,300 inmates elsewhere at a cost of about $25 million a year, or about $54 a day, as compared to a daily $80 to $90 to keep an inmate in state facilities. However, these figures don't factor in the cost of recidivism, which experts say results from poor efforts at rehabilitation and lack of family support and drug treatment programs.
State officials have been reluctant to build more prisons during lean budgetary years and because of objections from communities that did not want such facilities in their areas. Late last year, former Governor Cayetano was on the brink of reaching an agreement with a private company to build and possibly operate a prison at Halawa. The $116 million facility would have housed as many as 1,100 inmates. The deal fell through when unforeseen conditions raised the cost of construction and the incoming administration complained that the facility would not meet its goals.
Because the majority of inmates are drug offenders, Lingle favors treatment outside of prison walls for certain individuals and a new state law requires that first-time, nonviolent drug offenders get treatment rather than incarceration. The intent is to give lawbreakers a better chance at rehabilitation and to save prison space for those who actually need to be separated from the community.
With the state's fiscal crisis, finding money for a new facility would be burdensome. Nevertheless, state lawmakers and the governor should consider the long-term expense of continuing to send inmates out of state and the cost to society if they resume their lawless ways.
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