Michael Edward Manning Jr. has spent the majority of his adult life at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

Manning, 35, has racked up 19 convictions since turning 18. He has sat in a cell for more than 14 of the last 17 years. His crimes include burglary, theft, terroristic threatening, assault and parole violation.

Last week, Manning etched yet another notch onto his extensive rap sheet. On April 14, he and an accomplice shut down Kalanianaole Highway for hours after a botched car jacking. Manning was booked by police and charged with robbery. Mark Ahnee, 28, was shot and killed after firing on officers. (Ahnee had three prior convictions of his own. In 2002, he received a 10-year sentence for robbery.)

“There’s probably more guys like him walking around than people care to realize,” said Franklin “Don” Pacarro, Jr., a 24-year veteran of the Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, who is now in private practice. “The system is what it is.”

Two camps seem to emerge when a case like Manning’s takes center stage. The first asks how a person who has averaged more than one conviction a year for close to two decades is still on the street. The second wonders if Manning’s situation is evidence that incarceration isn’t working.

Both seem to agree that something’s wrong.

“You do your time, you come out, you can only incarcerate them for whatever the sentence is,” Pacarro told Civil Beat. “And if he keeps committing these, say, Class C burglaries, or Class D burglaries, and he’s getting mandatory time, and he gets paroled, when they come out – that’s the difficult part. How do they make that transition?”

Transition

Manning, who turned down a request for an interview, has certainly had his share of attempted transitions.

Since 1994, he’s been booked and released from OCCC 11 times. His shortest stint in prison was five days. His longest, four years and 86 days for burglary. He was twice convicted of violating the terms of his parole, which he was granted on four separate occasions.

Manning most recently entered OCCC on April 7, 2011. He was released on bond April 12, two days before causing chaos on Kalanianaole.

But Pacarro says Manning isn’t necessarily typical, that many inmates find their way out of a life of crime.

“There’s a lot of people that make that change,” Pacarro said. “They change their life after incarceration. Some of them use their time to get education. And I guess the other thing, is someone has to give them a chance, give them a job. They get a job, and they’re doing fine, then a lot of people change.”

Kat Brady, coordinator for the Community Alliance on Prisons, agrees with Pacarro that the transition time from captivity back into society is the fundamental period in determining whether a prisoner will avoid reoffending. She says that the first three months after an inmate is released often prove the most difficult.

“The thing that is probably the weakest part of the system, and I think what (the Abercrombie) administration is trying to work on, is the reentry part,” Brady told Civil Beat. “And on any given day, a substantial number of people at intake services are people going back to prison. Why would they be going back if they got the help and support they needed?”

Brady said that when prisoners are released on parole, they have to find a place to live, find a job and complete the requirements of the terms of their parole.

Brady told Civil Beat that 98 percent of inmates will eventually be released from prison. She said the fact that most prisoners don’t receive rehabilitation treatment until the latter portions of their sentences is a major problem in avoiding institutionalization of an inmate.

“The best practices work when we focus on really trying to get the person who is incarcerated to complete their programming and to really work on their rehabilitation so that they can be released at the minimum sentence,” Brady said. “Because the longer somebody is in, the more difficult it is. Because prison is a culture… When somebody has been steeped in that culture, and I mean going back and forth many times, that is the norm to them. And living in the free world is abnormal.”

Hawaii’s incarceration rate increased 314 percent between 1982 and 2007, according to a Justice Center Council on State Governments report provided by Brady .

Jail Time

Pacarro says that one role of prison is simply to isolate bad actors from the rest of the public.

“You get some people that are just institutionalized, they commit crimes because that’s the only life that they know – and what do you do? You incarcerate them. Keep that person away from everybody else to protect the community. That’s basically it.”

Brady says she understands that sentiment, but if the system is to improve – if situations like Manning’s are to decrease – people have to care about rehabilitation.

“The bottom line is that the guy is going to be in the community someday,” Brady said. “And that’s what we have to keep reinforcing with people… So, I’m sorry that you don’t care about him – but you’re going to have to. Because he’s going to be on the bus next to your kid, or in the mall standing in line with you. You can’t avoid that.”

Three-Strikes

Some states, such as California, have adopted measures less focused on rehabilitation and more oriented toward punishment. Known as “three-strikes” laws, life sentences are issued if an offender is convicted of three separate crimes.

But Pacarro says the Golden State’s rules have resulted in overcrowded prisons.

Hawaii actually has had a similar law in place since 2006. But in the five years the option has been available to prosecutors, it’s been used just once and it’s now being left to expire.

Pacarro says it’s better to have tough sentencing laws as an option than to not have them.

“We had it in the back of our pockets so we could use it,” Pacarro said. “It’s better to have a tool and not need it, than to need a tool and not have it.”

Pacarro says that the use of the statute one time in five years shows that Hawaii prosecutors have exercised great restraint and that the law should not be allowed to sunset on July 1.

Brady says three-strike laws are an abomination.

“Three-strikes laws, basically the data all shows that they are a political answer and do nothing to actually protect public safety,” Brady said. “(California) is going bankrupt with incarcerating on three-strikes, people who are burglars, or people who stole a pizza, or a golf club, or something. It’s ludicrous… We keep trying to use these cookie-cutter models of sentencing as if that’s going to help somebody rather than directly addressing that person’s pathways to crime.”

Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro and Attorney General David Louie have expressed no desire to retain the law.

Kaneshiro tells Civil Beat that the problem is with offenders not serving full sentences.

“Now what we’re doing is, on some of the cases, we’re sending prosecutors to the parole hearing when they set the mandatory minimum (sentence) for that particular defendant and to also raise the concern and present evidence to the parole board of why they should not give a low minmum,” Kaneshiro said. “When you look at sentencing, the real truth to sentencing is not what the judge imposes… It’s what the parole board imposes (as) a minimum.”

Kaneshrio said he has tried a murder case in the past where the defendant was given a life sentence. He said the individual was given a minimum of two years before being eligible for parole, and was released after two years.

“If you look at the Manning case,” Kaneshiro said. “You know, when you talk about property crimes, everybody screams ‘It’s only property crimes, why is this guy in prison? Why is the prison filled with property criminals?’ And you see why. Some of these property criminals are violent and they are committing violent acts. They may not have a violent history, in the sense of convictions, but because of the numerous property crimes and because of the drug problem, it turns to violence.”

To Kaneshiro’s point, over the span of Manning’s 19 convictions, he was sentenced to more than 34 years in prison. He served substantially less than half of that, 14 years.

Solutions?

“What builds community is actually addressing what is going on, what’s motivating this and addressing the root cause of the problem,” Brady said. “But constantly throwing money at incarceration – haven’t we learned that doesn’t work?”

Brady said the federal government has something called Justice Reinvestment, a program started by the Council on State Governments and funded by the Pew Charitable Trust Foundation, among others.

The program requires a team of experts to analyze data from a particular jurisdiction from arrest through incarceration, which takes approximately four months. Brady says recommendations are then made to policy makers to reduce the prison population and “shift the money from incarceration into other areas that would actually be more effective.”

Brady says Hawaii has submitted a letter to the Justice Reinvestment program to send analysts to the Aloha State and is waiting on a response.

“That is very promising,” Brady said. “And if that happens, and if we are granted the technical assistance, by next session, there should be some legislation that would actually start to do that, to shift money from incarceration into other more effective areas.”

Read more about the Justice Reinvestment strategy here.

Pacarro says that to achieve real change, criminals have to be turned away from crime in their youth.

“You keep them on a short chain,” Pacarro said. “Because you try to get people before they become a (Manning), with 19 convictions, 14 years of incarceration. Because then those people have a chance early, in the beginning. Because once it gets beyond that point, then you’re just going to have a habitual criminal.”

Pacarro spoke of Hawaii Judge Steven Alm as an individual trying to prevent crime from becoming a livelihood.

Alm created Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program in 2004. According to the program’s website, “In HOPE Probation, defendants are clearly warned that if they violate the rules, they go to jail. Defendants are required to call a hotline each weekday morning to find out if they must take a drug test that day. Random drug testing occurs at least once a week for the first two months.

“If probationers test positive, they are arrested immediately. If they fail to appear for the test or violate other terms of probation, warrants for their arrest are issued immediately. Once they are apprehended, a probation modification hearing is held two days later, and violators are typically sentenced to a short jail term. The jail time may increase for subsequent violations and repeat offenders are often ordered into residential treatment.”

The organization states that since enacting HOPE, positive drug tests have been reduced by 86 percent, missed probation appointments by 80 percent, revocations of probation by more than 50 percent and arrests for new crimes by more than 50 percent.

Perhaps, methods like HOPE and Justice Reinvestment will offer an alternative to those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law in the future.

But for Manning, his story seems to be written.