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Breaking Cycles Symposium updates community on plans to let lots and lots of criminals back out onto the streets
By News Release @ 4:44 PM :: 1423 Views :: Justice Reinvestment

Breaking Cycles Symposium updates community on plans to improve correctional system in Hawai’i

News Release from Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

HONOLULU — Approximately 70 people attended the “Breaking Cycles Symposium Update: Re-envisioning a Health, Housing, and Corrections Continuum” at the state Capitol auditorium on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. State and community leaders discussed the ongoing need for a unified approach to a better, holistic, program-oriented correctional system.

Attendees included stakeholders, lawmakers and community groups and members who addressed the call to break the cycles of substance abuse, mental health needs, houselessness and generational incarceration in Hawai‘i.

Guest speakers included State Homeless Coordinator John Mizuno; Nikos Leverenz of the Hawa‘i Health and Harm Reduction Center; Dr. Chad Koyanagi of the Department of Health; District Court Judge Melanie May of the First Circuit (O‘ahu); Kainoa Castro of the Department of Health; Dr. Judy Mohr Peterson of the Department of Human Services and Iopa Maunakea of Men of Pa‘a (Positive Action Alliance).

Director Tommy Johnson of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) thanked everyone for their will to change the system and the paths of the lives of inmates. “We want to change the trajectory of these people’s lives. We want to have better and safer communities. We can’t do it alone,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take us working together as a community of policy makers, to different community organizations, to the legislative branch of government, to the judicial branch of government.”

One of the efforts that the DCR is working on is the implementation of more rehabilitation services and programs. Currently, the DCR is in discussions with the Men of Pa‘a for a mentoring program for inmates at the Kulani Correctional Facility. At the symposium, Maunakea said, it is “our kuleana” to take care of each other.

The Department is also finalizing an agreement with UH to provide ho‘oponopono services.

Such services and programs, Johnson said, would help reduce the 57% recidivism rate in Hawai‘i. “These types of culturally based programs are critically important to our paradigm shift to a more humane, culturally sensitive and effective rehabilitative model.”

Wednesday’s symposium — part of a project funded by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) and led by the University of Hawai‘i Community Design Center (UHCDC) — was an update to the first Breaking Cycles Symposium held in the fall of 2023.

At the symposium, Judge May and Castro shared results of the post-booking jail diversion program in District Court of the First Circuit. The program’s goal is to identify non-violent defendants with low-level pending misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor charges, keep them out of jails and long stays at the Hawai‘i State Hospital and find another way to focus on treatment rather than incarceration.

The program is voluntary and requires collaboration with both the public defender’s office and prosecutor’s office. Upon graduation, criminal charges against the defendant are dismissed. May noted the Judiciary has supported jail diversion for more than 17 years. “The big difference now is with the buy-in and collaboration from other stakeholders, we have been able to achieve results that we have not previously seen,” she said.

During the event, Dr. Michael Champion, Senior Advisor for Mental Health and the Justice System for Governor Josh Green, M.D., told attendees that breaking cycles is a foundational priority for the Governor who has assembled a dedicated team spanning across departments and disciplines that are united in “our commitment to this effort.”

“People who experience behavioral challenges face a very high prevalence of powerlessness, trauma, and justice involvement. Our efforts to break the cycles requires a sustained commitment to redesign our mental health and justice systems with a focus on ensuring improved access to services while also reducing disparities,” Champion said.

The time for action is now, he added.

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