Hawaii Supreme Court

Hawaii Supreme Court

BY JIM DOOLEY – As Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s new administration struggles to complete its new budget, individual government agencies are appearing before legislators with stories of extreme financial and personal duress caused by reduced payrolls, deteriorating facilities and outmoded equipment.

Hawaii Judiciary official Tom Mick said budget cuts and worker furloughs in state courts have hit “Hawaii’s families and most vulnerable citizens” particularly hard.

In the past three years, the time it takes to process Family Court felony cases has increased by 61 per cent, he said.

Divorce cases take twice as long to complete. Counseling for children of divorcing parents is so backlogged that it sometimes isn’t provided “until after their parents divorce was finalized,” said Mick, head of the Judiciary’s Policy and Planning Department.

While the number of civil cases filed has risen by nearly 20 per cent in the last two years, the courts have taken 40 per cent longer to resolve them.

Budget cuts have taken away 24 adult probation officers, including some who supervised sex and domestic violence offenders, said Mick.

The caseloads for probation officers have increased to 180 each, compared to a recommended national standard of 120.

That means more probationers re-offend and are sent to prison, increasing costs to the taxpayer, said Mick.

“The average cost of supervising a probationer is less than $2 per day, while the cost of incarcerating an inmate is approximately $137 per day,” Mick said.

Specialty court programs for offenders with drug and mental health problems enjoy very low recidivism rates but have been cut back and face possible elimination, Mick warned.

“Further cuts to staffing and treatment providers that service these specialty courts will result in vastly increased costs to the prison, welfare, law enforcement, social services systems, and judicial communities,” Mick said.

“Further reductions in these services would have an enormous impact on the ability of our community to remain safe and avoid an increase in crime and child abuse and neglect by repeat offenders,” he continued.

The budget squeeze has had other consequences, said Mick.

“Stress, fatigue, and frustration have increased significantly among court staff, which has led to errors, the inability to meet certain timeframes, and an overall decrease in morale. The public has also been deeply affected as waiting times to be serviced have doubled in some cases and fewer days are available for the public to do business with the Judiciary,” Mick said.

At the Department of Accounting and General Services, which keeps the administration books and oversees building repairs, the workforce has been pared by 25 per cent, State Comptroller Bruce Coppa said in prepared testimony to legislators.

In the department’s Information Communication Services Division, which operates and maintains much of the state’s computer system, the workforce has been reduced by 36 per cent, Coppa said.

The situation there has become a “crisis,” said Coppa.

“Staffing is not the only challenge facing ICSD, other critical needs include upgrades in hardware and software to convert to newer and more efficient equipment,” he said.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com