BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – An unprecedented gathering of federal, state and local officials took place at the Hawaii State Capitol on Tuesday.

The new task force, which includes Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, Senate President Shan Tsutsui, House Speaker Calvin Say, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Director of Public Safety Jodie Maesaka-Hirata as well as other legislators, judges, public safety administrators and law enforcement, have teamed up with the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to create a “justice reinvestment” plan.

The state’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group is looking for ways to lower crime and recidivism rates, and save taxpayers money, while also bringing Hawaii’s prisoners home from less costly private mainland prison facilities.

Marshall Clement, Project Director from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, offered the task force several crime statistics including the fact that Hawaii has seen a 13 percent increase in violent crime and a 26 percent decrease in property crime over the last 10 years.

Alternatives such as drug court and Judge Steve Alm’s Hawai’i Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program also has helped dropped recidivism rates, he said.

Fourteen other states have already undergone reforms in partnership with the Justice Reinvestment initiatives. Texas was able to save $200 million as a result and several other states have found cost savings and lower crime rates with these reforms.

“State leaders across the country are recognizing that there are research-based strategies for nonviolent offenders that can cut both crime and corrections costs,” said Adam Gelb, Director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States. “With this bipartisan, inter-branch working group, Hawai’i has an excellent opportunity to craft reforms that will hold offenders accountable and give the state a better public safety return on its corrections dollars.”

Hawaii’s coordinators will by August complete data gathering for Hawaii, launch into evaluation and analysis with task force members this fall, and establish new legislative proposals by January 2012 when the legislative session begins.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who stopped in briefly to the meeting to welcome new task force members, emphasized his plan to bring Hawaii’s prisoners in mainland facilities back to the state. An estimated one third of Hawaii’s prison population in in the mainland because of a shortage of prison space. The mainland contracts cost Hawaii taxpayers $45 million, and while the cost per prisoner is considerably less in the mainland when compared to costs locally, Abercrombie said he wants to keep the money here.

“We are committed to bringing Hawai’i’s prisoners home, and this partnership will help us develop a comprehensive, multi-faceted plan to see that this happens,” said Abercrombie. He said the 3-year contract that the state recently renewed with the Corrections Corporation of America to house Hawaii’s prisoners in Arizona can be terminated with 90-days notice.

This Thursday, an estimated 250 people working in Hawai’i’s criminal justice system will learn more about the Justice Reinvestment plan, including how it has worked succesfully in other states.

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