A new rehabilitation program advanced by state legislators this week will help Native Hawaiian inmates maintain cultural ties and support their return to society upon release.

Funding for the program will come from the judiciary budget, which has $2 million reserved for diversion and education programs for prisons, according to Rep. Mark Nakashima. But the exact cost of this particular effort – to be managed by the Department of Public Safety and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs – has yet to be determined.

Still Nakashima, chairman of the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, supports House Bill 2311.

“I didn’t put any money into (the bill) because I felt that it fell into the appropriation in the judiciary budget for the creation of these types of programs,” Nakashima said.

Nakashima said that “his vote would be to implement the program at all of the prisons and jails.” He added that Hawaii is “in need of diversion and rehabilitation opportunities for our incarcerated folks.”

Oahu Community Correctional Center razor wire inside jail.
The state agency in charge of corrections and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs are pushing for a measure to bring more Hawaiian rehabilitation programs into jail facilities. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

His committee advanced the measure Wednesday.

Public Safety Director Max Otani also supports creating new rehabilitation programs.

“The Department of Public Safety is very willing to work with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to gain their valuable input, guidance, and expertise on creating such a program that will benefit Native Hawaiian inmates, to include an estimated cost for this initiative,” he told lawmakers.

OHA added in its written testimony that it also supports culturally-based programs such as working in the loi, hula, and even having Hawaiian food on Kamehameha Day.

The office “supported the integration of culturally-based models to better rehabilitate paahao (prisoner), reconcile them with their ohana and communities, and reduce recidivism,” OHA said in its testimony.

The recidivism rate in Hawaii, the rate at which individuals released from jail reoffend, is around 50%, according to a report published in 2018.

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