08 Dec Wednesday, December 6, 2017 – from Kat Brady
I want to alert you to an informational briefing on suicide at the capitol on FRIDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2017 at 1 pm in Room 329. In Hawaiʻi, suicide is the leading cause of fatal injury death. One person dies by suicide every two days in our State. At a recent meeting, I asked that the briefing also include the suicides in our facilities – 4 in separate facilities since July. The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the Dept. of Justice reported in December 2016 that Hawai`i was 7th in the nation for suicides in prison – and that was before these deaths. Here is the hearing notice.
Today we share a great (very long) article from the American Bar Association on criminal justice reform. It highlights reforms and Louisiana (the most lock `em up place in the U.S.) and Alaska. The article points to the implementation of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which Hawai`i enacted, but never really implemented.
I have included excerpts. You can click on the link for the whole article which is really interesting. The conservative states have embraced reform.
What is really interesting is that Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) and the LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program were both brought to Hawai`i by the community – the only JRI and LEAD programs in the country to do so. This is again proof of the importance of bringing the community to the table and making us partners. We understand that the government cannot do everything. Our communities are full of great ideas and resources and we want to share them for everyone’s benefit. In Louisiana, JRI had many community meetings to gather input. In Hawai`i, it was all top down despite the community bringing JRI to Hawai`i. The burning question is,
“Why is Hawai`i so terrified to engage the community?”
States featuring bipartisan support rally for criminal justice reform
… So when Democrat John Bel Edwards won the governor’s office, he promised he’d make criminal justice reform a centerpiece of his term—and won support from the majority-Republican state legislature. In June, Edwards signed a package of 10 bills that is expected to reduce the prison population by 10 percent, and the parole and probation population by 12 percent over 10 years. The state estimates the bills will save $252 million, about 70 percent of which will be plowed back into programs designed to prevent crime. In this way, the state hopes to promote public safety, save money and give former offenders a chance to be full members of society.
Louisiana is part of a nationwide movement toward justice reinvestment—policies aimed at simultaneously reducing crime and reining in corrections spending, while still holding offenders accountable. Gelb calls those goals “our holy trinity.”
“The real goal is to improve the performance of the corrections system or to achieve a better public safety return on corrections spending,” he says.
According to the Urban Institute, which studies the outcomes of justice reinvestment, achieving a better return can be met in several ways. Reducing sentences, in a thoughtful and politically palatable way, is one component. But so are reducing the number of people held in lieu of bail and the time they’re held, expanding eligibility for parole and other ways to be released from prison, and providing alternatives to prison for probation and parole violations.
Unlike Texas, which started its reforms in 2007, Louisiana could draw on Pew; since 2010 it has been funded by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to help states with justice reinvestment. Pew staff spent months in the state, conducting research and helping decision-makers interpret the data. Those people were chiefly from the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force, a creation of the legislature that included members from throughout the justice system, as well as legislators, a faith group and a community development group.
After about nine months of study and eight public meetings gathering community input, the task force made its recommendations to the legislature. It suggested expanding eligibility for alternatives to incarceration and opportunities to be released from prison, changing certain kinds of sentences, reducing parole and probation sentences, eliminating or changing certain collateral consequences of felony conviction, and funding programs in job skills training and behavioral health.
(The actual reforms in Alaska are similar to Louisiana’s. Alaska established a new evidence-based pretrial services program in which it assesses defendants’ risk level. To keep someone in jail, a court must find that it’s necessary to ensure public safety or their appearance at trial.
The classifications or penalties for certain minor crimes were lowered, and police officers were authorized, at their discretion, to write tickets for class C felonies. A new “suspended entry of judgment” mechanism was created, permitting pretrial diversion programs.
Alaska also expanded parole eligibility and required the state Department of Corrections to make re-entry plans for prisoners. It expanded alternatives to jail for probation violators. In addition, the state rolled back some of the collateral consequences of conviction—such as ineligibility for food stamps—and expanded access to behavioral health services. And because it was expecting more people to be released from prison, it expanded victims’ rights to be notified about releases.
Harrell thinks Louisiana may do better, in part because its governor has embraced, rather than merely tolerated, criminal justice reforms. And he advises supporters of justice reform to play the long game.
“I have watched for nearly four years now, each state literally looking across the borders and comparing themselves to the other. And nobody wants to be the worst of the worst anymore,” he says. “It’s almost a positive competition happening.”
There is so much that can be done to bring about the desperately needed changes. We need to keep the pressure on for sentencing reform and accountability if reform is to really happen.