Don’t Water Down Law Helping Inmates Reenter Society - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Jamee Mahealani Miller

Jamee Mahealani Miller is the co-founder and President of Ekolu Mea Nui, a nonprofit organization working to transform Hawaii’s criminal legal system. Ekolu Mea Nui envisions a pono justice system in Hawaii that heals and empowers individuals, ohana, and communities.

April is Second Chance Month, a time to raise awareness about the barriers to successful reentry into society and lift up opportunities for people formerly incarcerated to genuinely participate, contribute and succeed in society.

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It is a reminder that the state of Hawaii need not perpetuate the policies and behaviors of a punitive legal system by setting justice-involved people up to return to Hawaii’s overcrowded jails and prisons.

After years of tough-on-crime policies, we now know that they do not create safety, but exponentially more harm.

In 2017, the Hawaii Legislature wisely passed House Bill 845 that became Hawaii Revised Statutes section 353-H. It statutorily mandated the state Department of Public Safety to provide effective and comprehensive reentry planning and to issue civil identification documents to people exiting jails and prisons.

This law actionized dignity, second chances and basic humanity. It represents promising changes towards effective and efficient systems of care.

This is a simple, proven reentry strategy for reducing recidivism and keeping communities intact.

A guard tower at the Halawa prison on Oahu. Proposed legislation could hamper the state’s ability to help inmates return to society. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

However, the Department of Public Safety has failed to follow through on implementation. According to Hawaii’s Reentry Coordination office, about 46% of people who leave Hawaii’s jails and prisons do so without IDs.

Instead of innovating solutions to comply with this mandate, legislators are on track to undo this law, potentially setting Hawaii back years.

DPS Turning Its Back

Currently, House Bill 2169, which would water down HRS 353-H, has traction in the legislative session. If the measure is approved, DPS would get a pass for failing to do what is required by law and is practiced by successful reentry programs around the nation. Despite the evidence that reentry planning assures safer communities, the government is turning its back on such promising approaches.

Education, health care, employment, housing and other systems of care have been demonstrated to transform lives, particularly of those formerly incarcerated. Fulfilling these basic needs reduces recidivism, saves taxpayer money, and keeps our communities together.

What does that look like?

What most of us take for granted: a government-issued ID, opportunities for employment and housing, a support system and access to contribute positively to community. Real public safety recognizes humanity and the power of redemption for those reentering their communities.

Fulfilling basic needs reduces recidivism, saves taxpayer money, and keeps communities together.

Genuine safety invests in the dignity and potential of justice-involved individuals. As they succeed, so do we all.

Reflecting on the six-plus months it took my son to receive a government ID post-release, it is clear that the incarceration system is like a trap — once you’re in, it is incredibly difficult to get out even after being released.

In fact, because the state of Hawaii was taking so long with identification appointments, my son took a different route and expedited a passport renewal.

The cost was about $230 versus $5 for a state identification card.  The time was six weeks versus six months.

Luckily, my son has a caring ohana to support him on his reentry journey. However, not everyone returning from incarceration to their families has the resources or support systems necessary to succeed.

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About the Author

Jamee Mahealani Miller

Jamee Mahealani Miller is the co-founder and President of Ekolu Mea Nui, a nonprofit organization working to transform Hawaii’s criminal legal system. Ekolu Mea Nui envisions a pono justice system in Hawaii that heals and empowers individuals, ohana, and communities.

Latest Comments (0)

I had a friend who just got out of prison here and the conditions he described sound more like a lockup that belongs in an impoverished country rather than an institution who gets paid $500 per day for each inmate. They say inmates here would rather go to Arizona even if it means being away from their families because the conditions here are so bad. If we lock people up like animals and don't give them a decent chance to get back into society then all we are doing is creating increasingly desperate and more violent criminals.

Intelligentsia · 1 year ago

What? Still another example of our government employees not enforcing laws and regulations! Is "good enough for government work" their mantra?... or the too-frequent "it's too hard" their excuse? What are we paying these people for? And that includes the legislators. Instead of insisting that this law be carried out, why is it watering it down? Check to see how your legislator voted. And remember.

Taueva · 1 year ago

Mahalo nui to Jamee for highlighting the challenges that individuals face post-incarceration. When society places one hurdle after another in front of their ability to be reintegrated and reclaim their lives, we do damage to our community fabric. The Peterborough Social Impact Bond in the UK proved that access to services during and post-incarceration can significantly reduce recidivism, heal families and help the previously incarcerated once again become productive members of society. It is win-win-win. Why would the State of Hawaiʻi be opposed to something that is proven and humane?

LisaK · 1 year ago

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