Hawaii Prisoners Should Not Be Released Early as Proposed Under Justice Reinvestment Act

 

April 20, 2012

 

BY REP. BARBARA MARUMOTO, R-KAIMUKI, KAHALA

This state’s proposed Justice Reinvestment Act, now in the form of (SB 2776, SD2 /HD2, Relating to Public Safety), is an “early prisoner release bill” that amends current state law in a manner that can affect neighborhood security.

With 1,100 prison inmates released in the first three years of the program, there will be some recidivism, some crimes and many victims.  Why the need for this early release?  Is it cost-cutting?  If so, is public safety jeopardized?

Section 13 requires that the Authority parole an inmate no later than eighteen  months prior to the expiration of his/her court-imposed maximum sentence if the offense is a Class A felony.  The applicable time for Class B and Class C felons is no later than six months and twelve months, respectively.

This administration wishes to mandate early parole for potentially the most dangerous of these three classes of felons.  Although the early release is subject to the Hawaii Paroling Authority’s determination that the inmate has an acceptable parole plan, the Authority’s discretion regarding the timing of parole is significantly compromised.

Early release, as well as other components of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, is based on a so-called “evidence-based, data-driven approach”.  The proponents of Justice Reinvestment repeatedly point to the fact that they will seek out low risk candidates, and justify the use of broad, sweeping changes merely because they are based on empirical data.  Before we get caught up in the hype, let us stop for a moment and remember that “evidence-based practice” comes from ideas based on rational, optimal behavior in a planned and systematically organized environment.

The danger in relying on assumptions made by the evidence-based approach is that human beings do not always act rationally or optimally.  This is demonstrated by the very fact that offenders ended up in prison because they failed to act rationally when committing the crime that got them incarcerated in the first place.

We have laws prohibiting certain kinds of behavior and prescribing certain punishments for violating the law.  Yet, the prospect of punishment did not lead any of these inmates to behave rationally or optimally – i.e. refrain from committing any crime in order to avoid punishment.

The sheer number of prisoners who will be released primarily on Oahu is frightening.   At what rate were inmates released from mainland prisons?  We should not assume that Justice Reinvestment will be as effective in Hawaii simply because of claims that it has been effective on the mainland.

This bill attempts to make drastic changes all at once.  Is this a case of too much too soon?  Before we put all our faith into this approach and enact wholesale change, please consider a more cautious and prudent approach by implementing a few of the ideas to see how they work out in Hawaii’s criminal justice system.  For example, should we not start early release with low-risk Class C felons – in other words,  lower-level felons?  We should spell out and limit early release only to Class C felons who committed property crimes as opposed to violent acts.  The Legislature can then come back to expand the program, after it has had time to observe the results, and determine the degree its implementation affects public safety.

Despite my feelings on the majority of the bill, I do believe that restitution reform is long overdue in our State.  I agree with the following suggestions proposed by the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu.  These were stated in their letter dated March 21, 2012 to the House Judiciary Committee.  “We agree that additional measures are needed to facilitate payment of restitution to crime victims; however, Section 10 of this bill would do very little to improve things, as the vast majority of offenders owing restitution are not in prison, and other sections of this bill propose to release even more people from our prisons.  To effectively facilitate restitution payments, the Department suggests incorporating language from H.B. 2394.”

Advertisements