Rep. George Fontaine (R HD-11), Kihei, Wailea, Makena , The Maui Weekly July 12, 2012
This month, I want to discuss two bills that passed this year and became law last month. Much of the driving force behind SB 2776 and HB 2515 comes from the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), which is part of the Council of State Governments – Justice Center.
Initially, there was some misinformation about what these bills were addressing and how the criminal justice system in Hawai’i would be affected. Some people feared that these bills would cause early release for prisoners. Others thought these bills were just about bringing more prisoners back from incarceration on the Mainland.
The reality is that these new laws, known as Act 139 and Act 140, are much more comprehensive than this. The goal is to enhance public safety, reduce recidivism (percentage of criminals that commit another crime after serving a sentence), and to scale the justice system to become more cost effective. It was for these reasons that I supported this legislation. I voted for HB 2515 in conference committee and I also voted in favor of SB 2776 in the House Judiciary Committee.
The three-part objective of Justice Reinvestment is to first analyze data and develop policy options; second, adopt new policies and put reinvestment strategies into place; and finally, measure performance.
Justice Reinvestment has had success in states such as Arizona and Texas. In Arizona, the legislature passed the Safe Communities Act in 2008. As a result, “the number of probationers who were convicted for another felony crime while on supervision also declined from 3,174 to 2,188, a decline of 31 percent” (justicereinvestment.org). In 2006, Texas passed legislation based on Justice Reinvestment research. As a result, “between 1997 and 2006, the number of probation revocations to prison increased 18 percent, despite a three percent decline in the total number of persons under community supervision” (justicereinvestment.org).
Act 139 and Act 140 will allow the State of Hawai’i to provide a variety of opportunities for prisoners to rehabilitate. Research has shown that it is more effective to provide a variety of programs and opportunities for prisoners to rehabilitate; this approach is a more scalable-solution than more rigid one-size-fits-all solutions.
Here are some more benefits of these new laws:
Increases the amount of restitution paid to victims from 10 percent to 25 percent of any deposit made to an inmate’s account.
Savings are estimated at $9 million by the end of FY 2013 up to $26 million by FY 2015.
Increase capacity for victim services.
Approximately $1 million will be invested to enhance community-based treatment programs.
Pre-trial delays for risk assessment will be eliminated.
The data analysis portion of this plan is extremely important. Justice Reinvestment means that Hawai’i will be able to move in the direction of putting in place a sophisticated projection model for forecasting the growth of the state’s prison population. Up until this time, Hawai’i did not have this forecasting ability. Now the Department of Public Safety and lawmakers will have new analysis tools to help plan for the future.
If you need to contact me with any issues or concerns regarding Justice Reinvestment, please call my office at (808) 586-8525 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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