ACLU report: Hawaii needs more programs to help reduce number of people behind bars
A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU shows Hawaii needs less people behind bars and more programs offering help.
"What we're doing is not working... How we can make our community safer and we can do it in a smart and efficient way," Monica Espita, Smart Justice campaign director, ACLU Hawaii, said.
It found the state's incarcerated population went up by almost 500 percent between 1980 and 2017. The group's goal is to cut that population in half and combat racial inequality in the criminal justice system.
"We have a way forward, we have a different way we can do things. We have a more efficient way of doing things," Espita said.
The report suggested a few options that start with changes in policy. One includes alternative programs like substance abuse treatment and mental health care.
"Some of these issues are public health issues. They're not public safety. We shouldn't just be locking people up. We should address the root of the problem and it's health," Espita said.
Another is shortening the use of pre-trial detention. State lawmakers tried to address that issue by passing a law last legislative session that'll be in effect next January, that would speed up the process of when defendants show up in court and their bail amount.
"People can sit there for weeks. We will be reducing the time period that a judge holds a bail hearing in 3 days," State Representative Gregg Takayama, chair of the house committee on public safety, said. "We wanna avoid people who are non violent from having to be in jail when they don't need to be. That's the bottom line for us."
Another issue mentioned in the report was overcrowding in Hawaii's prisons. Almost 1,500 people under the state's jurisdiction served their sentence in a private prison in Arizona in 2017. The Department of Public Safety manages the state's correctional facilities. A spokesperson says "We welcome any initiatives that would help reduce jail and prison populations while balancing the imperative need to maintain the safety and security of our community."
The ACLU wants communities across the state to talk about Hawaii's criminal justice system. The next "talk story" session is on October 10 at 6 p.m. at Maui Coffee Attic in Wailuku, Maui. You can find more information here.