On behalf of the Episcopal Church in Hawai‘i, I am writing to affirm our belief in the humanity of all of the people of Hawaii, including those who are incarcerated, and to support the recommendations of the House Concurrent Resolution 85 Task Force on Prison Reform that was created by the 2016 legislature and is chaired by Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Michael D. Wilson.
The Task Force has recommended, among other things, that Hawaii transition from a punitive to a rehabilitative and restorative correctional system. We strongly support that recommendation because We Are All ʻOhana.
I call on the legislature to work with stakeholders from our communities to develop a smaller, more efficient, more humane, and more sustainable approach to the rehabilitation of our family and friends who are incarcerated. Regardless of past wrongdoing, the men and women in prison are our brothers and sisters. We affirm the belief that all individuals are capable of redemption and rehabilitation when given the leadership, mentorship, and resources they need to improve their lives. And we believe that everyone deserves another chance.
We acknowledge that transitioning from a punitive to a rehabilitative system will take time, human and financial capital, and a re-imagining of the existing system.
However, the evidence supports an evolution of our current incarceration practices to embrace rehabilitation rather than retribution, and thereby reduce recidivism and break the multi-generational cycle of crime that the current system perpetuates.
The current penal system is failing the people of Hawaii. Treating prisoners as human beings rather than numbers needs to be at the core of our criminal justice system, and we need to provide those in prison with the addiction and mental health treatment they need. Too many of our current practices feed the cycle of violence in our communities rather than implementing evidence-based strategies that empower people to become participating members of our community. Our broken system is evidenced by the fact that Native Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in our prison system, and it is estimated that upwards of 90% of our prisoners suffer from mental health and/or addiction problems. We should not criminalize our social problems.
We do not need a huge new jail on Oahu. We need a community-based approach to corrections that integrates law enforcement, social services, housing, behavioral health, faith-based organizations, and others to deal with social problems that need intervention, not incarceration.
I ask the Legislature to order the Department of Public Safety to work collaboratively with community stakeholders and begin the jail planning process over again, and this time focus on implementing evidence-based practices that rehabilitate our inmate population. Some of our sister states and many other countries are doing exactly that with astounding results. The leadership in our correctional system can boldly move from a system of punishment to a system of rehabilitation and restoration. We need to allocate significant portions of the projected jail building funds toward addressing the mental health/drug epidemic that plagues our felon population. And we need independent monitoring and oversight of our correctional system to ensure that the investment in training of our correctional officers in principles of rehabilitation and restoration occurs. Every life is valuable, including those in prison.
ʻOhana and aloha are not reserved for the best among us. On behalf of the Episcopal diocese, we call on the great state of Hawai‘i to live out our commitment to Aloha and implement prison practices that acknowledge and respect the humanity in all of us.