UPDATED 6/29/11 8:55 a.m.

Bringing Hawaii inmates housed in mainland prisons home to the islands is one of Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s aims. On Tuesday, he introduced a new initiative that he says represents a major step toward that goal.

The new “Justice Reinvestment” program will gather public safety data to help streamline Hawaii’s justice system. Ultimately, the program will be used to shape public safety policy. One of its primary goals is to bring Hawaii prisoners home. To date, Abercrombie said that between 200 and 250 Hawaii inmates have come home from the mainland.

“We’re, as everyone knows, firmly committed to eliminating the need to send individuals out of state with regard to prison circumstances,” Abercrombie said Tuesday, flanked by city and state officials. “We want to reunite families. We want to try and reintegrate people into society, and in some instances, integrate them for the first time into society. We want to reduce recidivism. The Justice Reinvestment initiative is going to create a comprehensive plan, not just to bring prisoners back home, but a comprehensive justice plan.”

Currently, about one third, or 2,000, of Hawaii’s adult prison population is housed out-of-state, according to the Justice Center, a national nonprofit that will serve as a parter to the state in establishing the new initiative.

Hawaii is the latest to join a growing number of states that have adopted the program.

“To date, we’ve applied the Justice Reinvestment approach to 14 states around the country, including states like Texas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio,” said Marshall Clement, a project director with the Justice Center. “Those states have used these analyses to craft policies that have, in the years since their enactment, reduced recidivism, increased public safety and generated significant dollars — hundreds of millions of dollars — in savings to those states that they have turned around and reinvested in strategies to increase public safety and reduce crime.”

Clement pointed to successes in Texas, which adopted the program in 2007.

Since then, recidivism rates in Texas have fallen 26 percent for parolees. Between 2008 and 2009, Texas saved $440 million and reinvested $240 million in expanding in-prison and community-based treatment services, Clement said.

It’s hoped Justice Reinvestment will also help address recidivism in Hawaii and reduce crime rates overall.

Hawaii’s recidivism rate was 51 percent in 2007, according to the Justice Center. And while there have been fewer property crimes in Hawaii, certain violent crime rates have increased dramatically. For example, rapes are up 5 percent since 2000 and aggravated assaults are up 37 percent since 2000.

There are three phases to the Justice Reinvestment initiative:

1) Analyze data to develop policy decisions
2) Adopt new policies
3) Measure the performance of those policies

Justice Reinvestment works as an inter-branch, bipartisan working group staffed by state and local leaders, which will receive technical assistance from the Justice Center, as well as the Pew Center on the States.

The working group will include Abercrombie, Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, Senate President Shan Tsutsui, House Speaker Calvin Say and Department of Public Safety Director Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, among others.

UPDATE “This is an exciting day for the people of Hawaii,” said Recktenwald. He said all three branches of government were joining together to ask a fundamental question: How can we obtain better results from our criminal justice system in economically challenging times?

Abercrombie could not give a timeline on when citizens could expect to see changes within the justice system.

“It has much less to do with a timetable than it does with a game plan,” Abercrombie said. “Once we get a game plan, we can start working on timetables.”

Also this week, the state awarded a three-year, $136.5 million contract to a private prison in Arizona to house Hawaii prisoners. The contact will allow almost 2,000 prisoners to be held at Saguaro Correctional Center and Red Rock Correctional Center.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, the city’s former prosecutor, also supported the new initiative.

“The key to this program is that we’re not reinventing the wheel,” Carlisle said. “What this does is it gives us basically the opportunity to look at data, and that’s the key… Most importantly, this particular program integrates the concept of community safety and victim safety at every step of the process. So once you have that and you have success on the mainland, there’s no reason that we couldn’t follow that.”

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