Hawaii lawmakers are considering a pilot program at the Waiawa Correctional Facility designed to keep incarcerated people better connected with their children.

University of Hawaii Student Stories project badgeA proposed family resource center would provide trauma-informed professionals to serve as liaisons for families affected by incarceration. The center may also include parenting classes, trauma counseling and legal help advocacy as recommended by the 2008 Children of Incarcerated Parents Task Force.

House Bill 1741 would set up the program and require the state Department of Public Safety to work with other state agencies to coordinate efforts. The bill received strong support at a public hearing earlier this month.

On March 24, the bill won approval in both the Senate Human Services and Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs Committees. The Senate Ways and Means Committee will now evaluate the program’s price tag, which includes $115,000 for the Department of Public Safety and $305,000 for the Department of Human Services.

Waiawa Correctional Facility Entrance.
Lawmakers are considering a pilot program to help incarcerated individuals and their families. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

The pilot project responds to Hawaii’s disproportionate imprisonment of its native population, which also has one of the highest inter-generational incarceration rates in the world.

Children with an imprisoned parent often react with a traumatic response to the ordeal and are more likely to experience mental, financial, and behavioral problems later in life.

“An investment into early childhood learning and early childhood experiences is cheap, compared to what we’ve been doing forever, which is paying $151 dollars per person, per day (to cover jailing expenses),” Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, chairwoman of the Senate Human Services Committee, said. “It’s the highest in the country for incarcerated individuals … If we are able to prevent this incarcerated person early on from becoming a criminal, the hope is that that person would be a productive community member.”

Children of incarcerated parents are more than twice as likely to be at risk for criminal behavior, according to a 2017 University of Cambridge study.

“If we want to stop inter-generational incarceration, then we need to face it head on and do proactive things, to support, and build, and strengthen families,” Kat Brady, coordinator for the Community Alliance on Prisons, said. “I think (this program) will have a great benefit for the community.”

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