Judge Steve Alm

BY JIM DOOLEY – Hawaii’s highly-praised HOPE probation program is stretching the state’s criminal justice system in two directions as increasing numbers of HOPE violators occupy limited prison space and HOPE absconders add to law enforcement’s long list of unserved arrest warrants, a Hawaii Reporter investigation shows.

Judge Steve Alm

Created by Circuit Judge Steven Alm in 2004, HOPE has now grown to more than 1,800 cases as the program has shown startling reductions in drug use and other repeat offenses by probationers who are closely supervised and face threats of “swift and certain” jail terms for misbehavior.

Despite those threats, 184 HOPE felony probationers are now wanted for arrest and some of those warrants have been outstanding for years, according to Judiciary records.

As Alm has promoted more expansion of HOPE – an acronym for Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement – to include all Drug Court defendants, some Family Court offenders and perhaps even state parolees, the Department of Public Safety has warned that HOPE violators are filling too many prison beds.

“The Corrections Division is required to expend manpower, money and resources to house these short term offenders taking up needed cell space and resources for the pre-trial population,” said Rosalina Aipopo of the Department of Public Safety.

The department is concerned about “its limited capacities to house offenders and the available resources it has to do it with,” said Aipopo.

The number of HOPE probationers wanted for arrest is about 10 per cent of all defendants assigned to the program, according to statistics provided by Judiciary spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa.

Among the absconders are at least two convicted sex offenders.

Kitagawa was unable to provide the number of outstanding arrest warrants for non-HOPE felony probationers.

She said 3,372 regular probationers are wanted for arrest – about 16 per cent of 20,875 non-Hope felony and misdemeanor cases.

Kitagawa said Judiciary computers can’t separate felony from misdemeanor arrest warrants.

Although Alm stresses the certainty of arrest for HOPE violations in formal warning he delivers to new HOPE probationers, law enforcement agencies charged with serving warrants, including the U.S. Marshal’s Service and the Office of the state Sheriff, say its difficult to give extra attention to HOPE cases.

“We try to triage cases according to the severity of the offense,” said U.S. Marshall Gervin Miyamoto.

“The significant number you should be looking at is the amount of outstanding warrants there are for felony offenders,” he said.

The Honolulu Police Department has not responded to questions about how it handles HOPE arrest warrants.

Sen. Will Espero

State Sen. Will Espero D-20th (Ewa Beach), chairman of the Senate Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee, is a strong supporter of the HOPE program.

He was surprised to learn that 10 per cent of Hope probationers are wanted on outstanding arrest warrants.

“If we have some side issues that cast a negative light on HOPE, then by all means let’s look at them, study them and see how we can resolve them,” Espero said.

Keith Kaneshiro

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro said he supports HOPE but also expressed reservations about the program.

Told of the number of outstanding HOPE arrest warrants said, Kaneshiro said through spokesman David Koga, “In light of these and other numbers, the program may need to be re-evaluated.”

Mayor Peter Carlisle expressed similar misgivings about HOPE when he was Honolulu Prosecutor.

He said in 2008 that he supported HOPE but was concerned that it sometimes “may be used as a means to keep people out of jail who should be in jail.”

Kelii Acasia

Carlisle made that statement after two men who were wanted on HOPE arrest warrants, RJ Ham

RJ Ham

and Kelii Acasia, committed murder and manslaughter while they were on the run.

Ham is now serving a life sentence in prison. Acasia, convicted of manslaughter after fatally assaulting a 58-year-old man in Waikiki, is serving a 30-year sentence.

Aaron Susa

More recently, HOPE probationer Aaron Susa was charged with murdering tourist Bryanna Antone on Waikiki Beach in 2009 less than a day after completing a HOPE-mandated stay in jail. Susa is awaiting trial in that case.

Ian Coen, an Ewa Beach man charged this week with kidnapping a four-year-old girl, was released from jail in December after serving the latest of four jail sentences for violating HOPE rules, according to court records

Ian Coen

(adjoining story).

After Susa was arrested in 2009, Carlisle said of HOPE, “People are dead. That’s a reason for tremendous concern.”

“There is definitely a place for HOPE probation,” he continued. “It’s the way probation ought to be run: quick, early interventions for failure to obey conditions of release.”

But Carlisle questioned whether “there are enough resources to make this work. HOPE is something that requires intense use of resources, including enough law enforcement personnel to serve arrest warrants.”

Since then, HOPE has gotten bigger but law enforcement resources haven’t.

A married pair of HOPE probationers, Boniface Aiu III and his wife Nalua, exemplify the growing pains of the HOPE program. An arrest warrant for Boniface Aiu has been outstanding since December 2008. Alm issued it after the defendant repeatedly violated the rules of the program, then failed to appear for a scheduled court appointment.

Nalua Aiu has been arrested and jailed 11 times in the past 18 months for HOPE violations. In March Alm sentenced her to serve 180 days behind bars.

Boniface Aiu III

The Aius were arrested together in January 2007 after they stole backpacks and other belongings were taken from a church group’s bus.

Each was convicted of unlawful entry into a motor vehicle and sentenced to five-year probation terms.

Court records show that Boniface Aiu, 33, was already serving a probation sentence for a similar 2002 offence when Alm sentenced him to one year in jail and a new five-year HOPE probation term in 2007. Aiu repeatedly used methamphetamine, refused to undergo drug testing and twice was discharged from a private drug treatment program while on probation, according to case files. When he failed to appear in court for a scheduled HOPE hearing, Alm issued the latest arrest warrant Dec. 17, 2008. It has never been served.

Nalua Aiu, also 33, pleaded no contest in August 2008 but Alm delayed her sentencing while she underwent substance abuse treatment. In July 2009 the judge accepted a deferred plea of no contest from her, telling Aiu that if she stayed out of trouble for 5 years the criminal case against her would

Nalua Aiu

be dismissed.

Eight days later, Aiu was briefly jailed for smoking methamphetamine.

It was the first of many HOPE violations committed by the defendant.

  • 10/23/09: Aiu refused a drug test and Alm ordered her to spend 60 days in jail with the possibility of early release if she was accepted into a private drug treatment facility.
  • 1/15/10: Re-arrested for refusing a drug test. Released from jail 1/21/10.
  • 2/10/10: tested positive for meth, arrested. Sentenced to 14 days behind bars.
  • 3/31/10: Arrested for unspecified HOPE violation.
  • 4/5/10: Alm allowed Aiu to enter private drug treatment program.
  • 6/3/10: Positive test for meth use. Arrested.  Jailed.
  • 8/9/10: Arrested for methamphetamine use. Released two days later.
  • 12/28/10: Arrested for meth use. Sentenced to 15 days in jail.
  • 2/7/11: Arrested for meth use. Sentenced to 9 days behind bars.
  • 2/22/11: Refused drug test. Sentenced to 180 days in jail. Scheduled for release August 22.

Nalua Aiu declined to speak about the HOPE program with Hawaii Reporter, saying she did not want her name and criminal record publicized.

Her attorney, Dale Mattice, had high praise for the HOPE program and said his client is a good candidate to benefit from it.

“She’s a first time offender. She has six kids. She’s trying so hard to beat her addiction and she wants to get into a treatment program,” Mattice said.

Mattice said there is a pressing need for more substance abuse programs to complement the HOPE program.

HOPE has won nation-wide praise and publicity as studies have shown precipitous drops in new offenses by probationers who are enrolled in it.

Studies by academics Angela Hawken of Pepperdine University and Mark Kleiman of UCLA have been cited by Alm and the Judiciary as proof of HOPE’s effectiveness.

“It has been scientifically proved by Dr. Angela Hawken that HOPE probationers are not only far less likely to have their probation revoked, commit new crimes, and test positive for drugs than offenders on regular probation, they spend an average of 48 percent fewer days in prison,” said Kitagawa in a recent email.

“Although HOPE keeps the already hard-working members of the criminal justice system on their respective toes, the extra effort increases public safety and saves tax dollars in terms of prison costs,” Kitagawa said.

On the Department of Public Safety’s statement about HOPE violators taking up needed cell space, Kitagawa said Hawken “found that while HOPE probationers do more short stints in jail, which means that the Department of Public Safety does more in-and-out processing, those on regular probation actually spend the same (in fact, a bit more) amount of total jail time at OCCC because regular probationers are arrested more often for new crimes and have their probation revoked more often than HOPE probationers.”

Editor’s note: See Judge Alm’s response to this story here

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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

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