Duane “Dog” Chapman and Beth Chapman and their massive blond manes were hard to miss Tuesday afternoon at the state Capitol.

The stars of A&E’s “Dog the Bounty Hunter” reality series were not visiting Hawaii legislators to look for fugitives from justice.

Rather, the Chapmans were seeking to derail the Abercrombie administration’s “Justice Reinvestment” initiative, a data-driven approach to reforming Hawaii’s criminal justice system, which would include freeing up prison space.

The Chapmans testified against Senate Bill 2776, the major Justice Reinvestment legislation before lawmakers.

Among other things, the bill would limit the length of incarceration for first-time parole violators and require pre-trial risk assessment of adult offenders to be conducted within three days of their admission to a correctional facility.

Supporters say this would help reduce recidivism and keep nonviolent drug offenders out of prison. But the Chapmans argue that SB 2776 would put more criminals out on the streets.

“It’s dangerous and not very well-thought out,” Beth Chapman told Civil Beat.

Dog Chapman agreed, calling SB 2776 “a threat to public safety.”

Both believe the Justice Reinvestment is “a scam.”

Told of the Chapmans’ views, Sen. Will Espero, a key supporter of Justice Reinvestment (JRI) and chair of Senate Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs, defended the initiative.

“The Justice Center and the work it does is nationally known and has had tremendous success in states that it has been involved in,” he said, referring to the national nonprofit that partners with states to establish JRI. “To call it a scam is ridiculous and, with all due respect, quite stupid.”

Da Kine Bail Bonds

In addition to the administration, SB 2776 has the support of the Department of Public Safety, which runs state prisons, the Hawaii Paroling Authority, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Hawaii Substance Abuse Coalition, the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, the ACLU of Hawaii and the Community Alliance on Prisons.

The primary opponent of the legislation is Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro.

In testimony submitted Feb. 23, he wrote: “While the Department understands the State’s desire ‘to bring out-of-state prisoners back to
Hawaii, reduce spending on corrections, and reinvest savings generated in strategies that would reduce recidivism and crime and increase public safety,’ multiple sections of this bill seem to strive for saving money or decreasing the prison populations, without retaining or including sufficient measures to uphold public safety.”

The Chapmans, who operate Da Kine Bail Bonds, are particularly concerned with the proposed pre-trial assessment component.

“First and foremost, our biggest concern with this section is that it allows felons on the street after a quick, seven-question interview process, and on their own recognizance, which is not in the best interest of public safety,” they wrote in March 28 testimony. “After our over forty years of experience dealing with criminals, we know they will say anything to get a favorable interview result.”

The Chapmans added, “If the intent of this bill is to reduce overcrowding in our prisons, there are other ways to achieve this, including passing bills like SB 2158, which allows bail on weekends and holidays.”

Senate Bill 2158, which is supported by the Office of the Public Defender, is generally supported by Public Safety, too, though it says doesn’t have the money to staff the extra hours.

SB 2158 is alive and has a conference committee hearing Thursday. The JRI bill, SB 2776, also has a hearing Thursday.

The Chapmans acknowledged to Civil Beat that passage of SB 2776 would negatively impact their business.

For his part, Sen. Espero said he found it ironic that the Champans would criticize the measure.

“Through their bail company, they put criminals on the street, so for them to criticize this bill is wrong and ironic,” he said. “This bill is not a threat to pubic safety, because when we were drafting it, public safety was paramount. We currently have a 50 percent recidivism rate. So, the current system is failing when it comes to rehabilitating inmates.”

Espero said SB 2776 will fund parole and probation programs and staffing as well as reform.

“We legislators would not pass a bill if we thought it was a danger to the community,” he said.

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