Hawaii Should Support Cash Bail Reform - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Jadd Nakayama

Jadd Nakayama was born and raised on Oahu and graduated from Punahou School. He currently is a sophomore at Creighton University.

Is it fair? Is it just? Is it humane? That’s what we should be asking ourselves as we lock innocent people away.

Opinion article badge

Everyone in our country has the implied constitutional right to innocence until they are tried and found guilty by a jury of their peers. This belief has been enshrined within the American identity for years through case law and amendments to the Constitution. Yet, by implementing a bail system here in America, we have forgotten this foundational idea.

House Bill 1567 is a bill that is expected to go into law if Gov. David Ige does not veto it. The bill aims to eliminate bail for nonviolent misdemeanors and class C felonies. Opposition to this bill arises from the fear that eliminating bail for individuals accused of committing a crime would increase crime and make our communities unsafe.

However, despite these concerns, this bill would serve as a stepping stone to a more fair, just, and rehabilitative criminal justice system here in Hawaii. Although the bill does have shortcomings, it provides a foundation for other reforms like Senate Bill 2778, which would allow for the release of all pretrial defendants unless they pose a threat to the community.

Although HB 1567 has just been passed this session, the state has known for years that there is a need for reform. In 2016, the HCR 85 Task Force investigated the criminal justice system here in Hawaii, and they concluded “mass incarceration does not work” and a “rehabilitative approach is the only sustainable way to make our communities safe.”

Despite the conclusion of the report, Hawaii continues to perpetuate a punitive, rather than a rehabilitative, criminal justice system. Besides HB 1567, the recommendations laid out in the report have largely been ignored.

Punishing The Poor

First, let’s address the bill and its language. Although this bill is designed to eliminate bail for nonviolent offenders, there are still various exceptions to a person not being issued bail.

If “the defendant presents a risk of danger to any other person or to the community,” “the defendant has at least one prior conviction for a misdemeanor crime of violence or felony crime of violence within the last eight years,” or “the defendant was awaiting trial or sentencing at the time of arrest,” then bail would still be issued.

Bail, the author argues, is not a system that keeps the community safe or ensures that people come back to court. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

The vagueness of the conditions and other safeguards make it so that judges and prosecutors could still issue bail to most people. So, realistically many detainees could still be issued bail. Despite claims to the contrary, this bill isn’t going to be as drastic or radical as people claim.

Next, let’s look at actual research into bail reform. Bail is not a system that keeps the community safe or ensures that people come back to court. It is a system that targets the financially vulnerable and keeps them in the criminal justice system, often increasing their chances of committing new crimes.

A 2013 study commissioned by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation found that, “When held for 2-3 days, low risk defendants were almost 40% more likely to commit new crimes before trial than equivalent defendants held no more than 24 hours.”

If people truly care about public safety, rather than advocating for bail to remain as it currently is, they should be advocating for keeping people out of jail through the elimination of bail being a condition of release.

A 2008 study and a 2020 study conducted by Francesco Drago, Roberto Galbiati, and Pietro Vertova and Santiago Tobón, respectively, both found that overcrowding within prisons — which is a constant issue in Hawaii’s jails — increases recidivism rates. This data supports the need for bail reforms, not complacency, when it comes to protecting the public.

This bill isn’t going to be as drastic or radical as people claim.

Looking at this issue from a more ethical perspective, the bail system we currently have in place simply punishes people for being poor. In a country where everyone is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, the bail system remains an everlasting bastion for the opposite.

Despite detainees not being proven guilty by a jury of their peers, the bail system forces them into jail because they cannot afford to pay. Keeping people in jail awaiting trial, which bail is designed to do, only keeps the poor locked up.

In contrast, the people who are accused of the exact same crime but have money, get to be released. Even if found guilty, many people will serve no jail time or will spend more time in jail than what their sentences call for.

While people proclaim that bail keeps the community safe and reduces crime, in reality it punishes people for being poor and makes the communities more unsafe. Don’t let a chance to change this system go to waste and please support HB 1567, as well as any subsequent bills that move our criminal justice system towards one that focuses on rehabilitation, not incarceration.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Denby Fawcett: Is There Such A Thing As Too Many Mangoes?

Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.


About the Author

Jadd Nakayama

Jadd Nakayama was born and raised on Oahu and graduated from Punahou School. He currently is a sophomore at Creighton University.

Latest Comments (0)

From what I am reading, under the proposed law a great majority of burglary and vandalism suspects would be released without posting a bail amount that is commensurate to the damage caused.... Let me just say that I would never support a politician who has ever supported non-arrest, non-prosecution, non-cash bail, or any other revolving-door policy for property crimes.

Chiquita · 7 months ago

This has to be 1 of the most dumbest things I ever heard of, a person who is arrested should have to surrender to having to post bail, this nonsense of allowing those that are arrested to be released w/out having to post bail is doing nothing but being a Billboard for more crime spree's and the revolving door at the prison(s) running faster, there is no advantage to this reform that should allow it to even be approached.

unclebob60 · 7 months ago

If you've been watching the news you'll know that by eliminating bail requirements DOES increase crime. It's similar to defunding the police. If there are no consequences, the individual will continue doing what they are doing (if you have children you know this). I'm more concerned with victims than those engaged in criminal activity. If they do something wrong, they go to jail. If you don't want to go to jail don't do the crime. We need to get IN FRONT OF THIS, rather than react to it. Fix it BEFORE the crime starts--the home life. Once the crime has been committed it's too late in that specific situation. We worry to much about specific groups of people. If you want to worry about a specific group then worry about the victims of crime. It is TRAUMATIC. It changes their lives. Imagine a elderly victim who just got sucker punched on the street and knocked down and out. The criminal gets to walk out. That person will NEVER BE THE SAME and on top of that is worried it will happen again. PLUS, you demoralize our police force. THINK and USE COMMON SENSE.

Redskins11 · 7 months ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.