Newly re-elected Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro says he’s beefing up his staff dedicated to fighting elderly abuse in Hawaii and laying the groundwork to put pimps behind bars.

He also wants to bring his office’s case management system out of the dark ages to avoid trial delays and start building a facility to help victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Kaneshiro, who won another term after beating Kevin Takata in November, sat down with Civil Beat to talk about his plans for the next four years in office. The hour-long interview covered a wide range of topics, including prostitution, native Hawaiians and the state’s overcrowded prisons.

What’s your next step in the effort to combat prostitution?

We are actively prosecuting prostitutes and johns. We strengthened the law on johns. And the rationale behind that was to take away the demand for prostitution. It takes two to tango.

The other thing in the law that we passed in 2011 was to focus on the people who profit from prostitution, and in different categories — using minors as prostitutes and coercion in prostitution, which falls in the area of human trafficking. So we addressed the area of human trafficking concerns with the current law that we have by increasing the penalties.

In addition to that we added as a class that was entitled to witness protection by the state, being the prostitutes who are involved in human trafficking, so that if they came forward they would get that protection.

Some people have mentioned that if you prosecute the prostitutes then no one will come and testify. As in any case that we prosecute, when there’s some people who have done wrong and have become a witness, we have the ability to give immunity, we have the ability to give deals for them to testify. And that’s what’s going to happen.

If a prostitute comes forward and says, ‘Look, I was coerced into being involved in prostitution’ or ‘I’m a minor and was involved in prostitution,’ yes, they committed the crime of prostitution. However, our goal is not to go after them. Our goal is to go after the people who were using them or taking advantage of them. So what we would do is probably give them immunity for them to testify, which is one of the tools that we have. This happens a lot in organized crime cases.

We are actively following all of the cases. Some of the difficulties have been the courts are very lenient, giving johns deferred acceptance of a guilty plea. And none of them have been given jail terms.

But what we put in place was say they commit the first crime and got off easily, the second time they commit the crime, we have a repeat offender and you’re going to have some mandatory time on that. We’re laying the groundwork for the future. The message to them is yeah, you make a mistake the first time, but don’t do it again because we’re going to be tougher on you the second time.

What are you doing about your office’s outdated case management system?

It’s coming good. We have spoken to several vendors already. We are in the process of putting in a request for proposal, which will probably come out in January. We got some funding by the City Council to start on that. We probably will be selecting a company, or vendor, in January or February next year.

The new system will be a very, very good system. Way, way more advanced than what we currently have. It’s going to be able to give you more statistics on cases, be more up to date and make the office more efficient.

When I first came here, what happened is the people who had the source codes (critical programming language) for the current system took it with them and left the office. As a result, we were not able to get information out of it. We talked to the city Department of Information Technology, and even they were not able to get the source codes. So in getting a whole new system, we can just forget about the source codes and work on a new system.

We’ll get police reports electronically. We’ll be able to send discovery electronically to the defense attorney. It’ll be much faster, perhaps much cheaper. When the deputies go to conference with the judge, pre-trial conference, if anything comes up or the defense attorney is trying to say, ‘I haven’t received discovery from the prosecutor yet,’ we’ll be able to pull out that case and say, ‘Well, discovery was sent on this date. Either you did not open your file or you did open your file on this date and you do have discovery.’ All of that will be available to the deputies, so it probably will not cause delay in trials.

We got $350,000 initially. We’re looking at anywhere under a million dollars but we’re gonna probably be less than that. One of the things is how many people are going to hold license to it because a lot of the charge is per license.

What’s the latest with the Honolulu family justice center?

We are waiting for the legal clearance for the spending of the money that was appropriated by the City Council. And once we get that we’re ready to begin negotiations, after the procurement process, on a contract with a nonprofit on the longterm transitional housing aspect.

The family justice center concept that we have is a combined consolidated services in one location and a long-term transitional housing.

I went to Salt Lake City and saw they have a family justice center which has the long-term transitional housing, which is something that we would like. But the difference is their program is run through a nonprofit agency. Our program will be run through the prosecuting attorney’s office, which is a government agency. So the referrals will be through the prosecutor’s office — of domestic violence victims, sex assault victims and possibly human trafficking victims. It will give them a safe place to go and live.

Corporation Counsel has to give the clearance. One of the reasons that it’s been taking so long is Corp Counsel was involved with the legal aspect of the affordable housing with the city property. Now, there’s like a transition in the Corporation Counsel office, and the holidays, but we’re going to try to see if we can get it by the end of the year.

What has been appropriated by the City Council so far is $2 million for the purchase, renovation or leasing of a building for the family justice center and $350,000 in our operating budget for the operation of that.

The concept of the long-term transitional housing is very important to domestic violence because with the cases that we have, over 80 percent of the cases, the victims will recant and change their testimony. So it’s much more difficult to prosecute. One of the reasons why they recant is they have to go back to the same environment. They have to be supported. They don’t have the financial means. They don’t have a place to live. So that’s why they recant. Hopefully with the family justice center, it will take them out of that environment of violence and make them more independent. We’d have job training for them and develop their self-esteem.

I don’t know anywhere in the nation that has the combination. It’s always either one or the other — longterm transitional housing or the crisis center with its consolidation of services. This will be one of the first that has the combination of both that’s run by a law enforcement agency.

Over the next four years, what are you going to do to fight elder abuse?

We got a federal grant (for $140,000 or so) to hire a financial investigator to help in financial crimes. Some of the financial abuse — if not all of it — involves financial exploitation of elders. So we need a financial investigator to be involved in that.

We’ve increased the unit. Right now we have three (attorneys); we’re going to add another one and a paralegal. We’re going to be doing a lot more public education — at community groups, senior citizen groups — to educate them about the fraudulent activities. And we’re also going to hit more of the financial institutions. We’ve already hit some of the financial institutions, and as a result were able to stop some of the victims from losing their money.

The uniqueness in Hawaii is Hawaii is very family oriented. The culture, the Asian families, are close together, close-knit. So you see a lot of families staying together. Unfortunately, some of the financial exploitation of elders involves the family members, the children. You see a lot more of that.

Plus, the elder community, they were the ones during their years who made a lot of money, saved a lot of money and purchased property. They have a lot of financial worth, so they become a target. The other thing is the elders in Hawaii are very trusting. They’ve grown up that way, have faith in people, trust people. So they’re easy targets.

How’s the Native Hawaiian Justice Task Force report coming?

They are in the process of finalizing a draft that will be presented to the Legislature next year. The biggest thing, initially when it came out in 2010, was the disparate treatment of Hawaiians in the criminal justice system. It later became disproportional representation of Hawaiians.

It was just the numbers. And it was because the economic status of some of the Hawaiians, no income, and also because of some of the drug problems in the Hawaiian community. It wasn’t because of their race that they were being treated differently or being incarcerated because of their race. It was disproportionate representation because of the problems within that community. The task group went in and looked at some recommendations to the Legislature. That should be coming out in January or so.

I did make this offer to OHA when OHA first came out with that study. I told a representative of OHA that what they could do, since OHA does possess a lot of funds, if they want to help the Hawaiian people, what they could do is build and develop a residential drug treatment facility. And Hawaiians who have this drug crime, under the criteria of the drug court, if they go through this residential drug treatment program and successfully complete it, then I’m willing to treat it like drug court and drop the charges. OHA hasn’t responded. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because they don’t want to spend the money for that. I haven’t heard ‘no’ and I haven’t heard ‘yes’ that they’re going to do that.

That study was presented to the Legislature last year. That’s how the Legislature came out with the resolution to create this task force.

What specifically are you going to do over the next four years to address the overcrowding of Hawaii’s prisons?

Definitely not release inmates. I think they have to have more programs. I’ve testified at the Legislature for more drug treatment programs. As a result, the Legislature last session did give more monies for drug treatment programs, for drug court and for programs run by the Department of Public Safety.

I’m a firm believer in drug treatment programs. The way to address drug offenders is to treat them for the addiction, not incarceration. However, if you cannot treat them or they don’t want to be treated and they’re persistently committing offenses then they should be incarcerated.

I don’t know, to a point, how all of that is going to affect the overcrowding conditions, but if it continues to be overcrowded and continues to expand, I will not be an advocate to not send people to prison. I will not be an advocate to release people from prison. What I will advocate is you probably need more prison bed space and you should build more prison bed space.

If you look at my history, I’ve always held that position. When I was director of Public Safety, we expanded the beds at a lot of facilities, OCCC, Waiawa (we had 200 additional beds in Waiawa), women’s facility, and Kulani. And we started a porgram to build a new prison in Kau. We got some funding from the Legislature but after I left Public Safety the whole program just disappeared.

Initially (in the late 1990s) we had 300 to send out. The reason why they sent 300 out initially is I was on Corrections Population Management. I didn’t want to go there but I was there. Then I brought up, you know, they have these prisons in Texas that are empty, why don’t we look at sending inmates there? So they did. This is when I was prosecuting attorney.

Then when I became the director of Public Safety, in my budget was money to send 300 inmates to Texas. So I said, why only 300? Let’s increase it to 600 inmates. Eventually, it came up to about 1,200, I think, inmates sent out of state. What we did was consolidate all of that under one, Corrections Corporation of America. It was a three-year contract.

The reason why it was a three-year contract is the plan was, we send these guys there for three years and in the meantime we build a facility here in Hawaii, and at the end of three years we bring them all back. What happened is when I left, the plans to build a prison over here evaporated, and therefore they continue to send people over to the mainland. But the initial purpose of sending them to the mainland was to open up bed space here so we could build and eventually bring them all back. Now, it’s 1,800. The Lingle administration just took the approach that we’re just going to send them all away.

When we build the prison here, we can put into the prison all the programs that’s needed — the drug treatment programs, the vocational education programs. When they were away, they were involved in education programs, they were involved going out in the community and working. And they did a good job with that, they enjoyed doing that. I visited every prison we sent guys to, to find out how they were doing, and we can have that in a facility over here.

When I was director of Public Safety, what I had proposed was that there were a lot of private companies that wanted to come and build a facility in Hawaii at no cost to the state. The only thing that they wanted from the state was an obligation that once they build the facility, we would send the inmates to the facility and pay the lease-rent, which was not very high. And there was an option for the state to purchase after 10 years. They would hire locally to staff the prison, so we had that in place. But the governor did not want that, (Gov. Cayetano) wanted the state to build it. That’s why we went to the Legislature and got initial monies for planning and design to start up the new prison here in Hawaii. That never got off the ground.

(Gov. Abercrombie) wants to bring them back. And the rationale is he wants to reduce the cost of incarceration. So he wants to bring them back and release them, or release the amount of people that he brings back, and that’s going to reduce the cost of incarceration. Yeah, it will. It might initially reduce the cost. But you got to release them first to have the cost go down. And if you don’t have any programs to release them to, I can tell you the cost is not going to go down. The cost is going to be expended other places. Cost to victims, cost of law enforcement, cost to prosecute cases, you’re going to have more of that. The recidivism is going to go up.

Some of these guys are not pro-rehabilitation. They just want to do the time and get out. Others, when they come up for parole, they tell them, ‘I don’t want to apply for parole because what am I going to do? I got parole. I don’t have a job for me. I don’t have a place to live. I don’t have any visible means of income. Why do I want to get out there and make it tougher when I can stay in here and got a roof over my head, three meals a day, and I get free medical, free dental.’ That’s why some guys don’t want to be paroled. So you can’t force them to go on parole. The job market has got to improve. You got to have jobs for them. And before you get jobs for them, you got to get jobs for the regular community, right?

You cannot just kick them out on parole and expect them to succeed; it’s a lot of adjustment. It’s not easy. You got to have programs out there for them, you got to have assistance for them when they go out there. There’s got to be some place where they can fall back on when they’re having difficult times. You cannot just leave them on their own. They need help. Now I’m talking like a defense attorney.

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