'Justice Reinvestment' Faces Public Safety Hurdle

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

The PowerPoint presentation was at about the halfway mark when Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro decided he couldn't sit quietly anymore.

Responding to a slide that suggested some sentenced felons could be released under supervision before the end of their prison term, Kaneshiro said, "These guys don't want supervision. They are dangerous. You've got to keep them incarcerated."

Perceived threats to public safety, it seems, is one of the hurdles of implementing the recommendations of the "Justice Reinvestment in Hawaii" analysis.

The recommendations were announced this morning at the Capitol and celebrated at a midday press conference in the governor's office.

By increasing efficiencies in Hawaii's criminal justice system, reducing recidivism and ensuring accountability in helping former prisoners reenter society, Hawaii could empty prison beds and redirect state funds into other parts of the system that need support.

The analysis, conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, in partnership with the Pew Center on the States, projects that Hawaii could save $108 million by 2018 and cut the number of Hawaii prisoners housed in Arizona prisons by two-thirds.

Kaneshiro, a member of the Justice Reinvestment — or JRI — working group, is not opposed to everything in the report, which can be viewed here. But he made it clear that he will oppose legislation he thinks would harm public safety.

Kaneshiro's concerns are shared by others in the working group, including county prosecutors, parole officials and at least one state senator, Republican Sam Slom.

"Sometimes we get caught up in statistics and saying that only a few individuals are likely to reoffend," said Slom. "From the public's position, they will reoffend. That's why the public gets so frustrated when someone with 75 priors is still doing the same thing."

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