Now Is The Time For Bail Reform In Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Authors

Nicholas Chagnon

Nicholas Chagnon is a senior lecturer at UH Manoa in the Departments of Sociology and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. He teaches criminology and sociology courses, and researches topics such as police reform and gender violence.

David T. Johnson

David T. Johnson is professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa and the author of many works on criminal justice, including “The Japanese Way of Justice: Prosecuting Crime in Japan,” which received awards from the American Sociological Association and the American Society of Criminology.

The young man who became Saint Augustine of Hippo often prayed, “Oh Lord, make me chaste — but not yet!”

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A similar plea is being made by opponents of bail reform in Hawaii, who claim to want change — but not yet. They say bail reform is important, but they have not met a bail reform bill that they will support. For them, the time for bail reform is always “not now.”

Gov. David Ige should sign House Bill 1567 into law. This bill eliminates cash bail for some non-violent offenses, including misdemeanors and Class C felonies. It also preserves discretion for judges to require bail when they believe an arrestee poses a danger to a specific person or the public, and it has many other carved-out exceptions.

There are many good reasons to support this bill. In 88% of criminal cases in Hawaii, people who get arrested are required to pay cash or bond to be released. The average amount for the lowest felony is around $20,000.

This requirement to pay for one’s freedom creates a two-tiered system of justice. Wealthy and middle class suspects go free, while poor and working class suspects sit in jail. In this way, our present system of bail is badly biased against the poor and people of color.

Hawaii’s system of bail is also used to coerce guilty pleas from suspects who face a plead-or-stay-in-jail ultimatum. The ACLU found that 69% of people who changed a plea from not guilty to guilty were in pretrial detention.

Demonstrators hold signs fronting the OCCC Oahu Community Correctional Center.
Advocates for criminal justice reform including ending cash bail protest outside the Oahu Community Correctional Center. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Bail also drives jail overcrowding, as half of those in our jails are there for pretrial detention. The detention of people who are too poor to purchase their own freedom often leads to lost employment and housing, damaged relationships, health risks (jails are not safe places), and the increased likelihood of reincarceration.

All of this is in addition to large racial disparities, with Native Hawaiians grossly overrepresented in our jails.

Opponents of bail reform claim that changes in bail practice have contributed to increases in violent crime in other parts of the country, and they believe bail reform here would have similarly harmful effects. But there is no solid evidence that bail reform causes crime to increase. Studies in New York and Chicago have found no link between bail reform and crime increases, nor did a study from the Prison Policy Initiative that examined 13 communities across the U.S.

Our bail system is broken.

Opponents of bail reform also ignore the reality of arrest, which is the reflex reaction of police to many situations. In the U.S., 50% of black males and 40% of white males get arrested at least once by age 23, but only about 5% of all arrests are for serious violent offenses. Most arrests are for minor crimes or troublesome situations that cannot be solved with a criminal sanction.

There is also the fact that many people who get arrested do not get convicted. When they cannot make bail, the Alice-in-Wonderland outcome is punishment without conviction. This is a betrayal of our most basic values.

Our bail system is broken. If you believe people should be convicted before they are punished, and if you agree that our current bail practices are profoundly biased against the poor and people of color, then please ask Ige to sign HB 1567 into law. He can be reached here.

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About the Authors

Nicholas Chagnon

Nicholas Chagnon is a senior lecturer at UH Manoa in the Departments of Sociology and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. He teaches criminology and sociology courses, and researches topics such as police reform and gender violence.

David T. Johnson

David T. Johnson is professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa and the author of many works on criminal justice, including “The Japanese Way of Justice: Prosecuting Crime in Japan,” which received awards from the American Sociological Association and the American Society of Criminology.


Latest Comments (0)

Did anyone talk to the cops who have to risk their safety when they re-arrest these "non-violent" offenders ? The cops are extremely frustrated by this. Their motto is to "Protect & Serve". That should be the motto of our government too. Public safety is the number 1 concern, then rehabilitation of criminals.

wantoknow · 6 months ago

In Honolulu, only 6% of property crimes are solved. On top of this, a great number of property crimes are never reported because the victims have given up on our law enforcement agencies. Thus, when someone is actually arrested for a property crime, that person has committed, on average, 20+ other crimes that go unreported or unsolved. Dismal crime-solving rates and failure to effectively deter career criminals are the real problems that need to get a lot more attention and resources from our elected officials.

Chiquita · 6 months ago

Judicial discretion should be able to weed out repeat offenders. The damages of incarceration, as well as the crowding of jails as the author suggests, far outweigh the "lock em up" necessity. Ige, please sign!

hhhon · 6 months ago

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