Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, Sen. President Donna Mercado Kim, and Rep. Mele Carroll (on behalf of Speaker Joseph Souki) today announced the launch of a new effort to increase public safety and hold juvenile offenders accountable for their actions, while reducing costs to Hawaii taxpayers. A new bipartisan, inter-branch working group will analyze the state's juvenile justice system and develop data-driven policy recommendations for the 2014 Legislature.
"It costs a tremendous amount of money to put juvenile offenders into state custody," said Gov. Abercrombie "We need to take a hard look at our data, find better outcomes, and identify more cost effective ways to handle our juvenile offenders."
Many of the youth suffer from substance abuse addiction, mental health issues and family dysfunction. A significant number are in custody due to the lack of accessible treatment services and programs, especially on the neighbor islands. Each commitment placement costs taxpayers more than $190,000 per year, per youth (averaging 60 youth per year). Despite this substantial cost, the majority juvenile offenders who exit the state's correctional facilities reoffend and return within three years.
"With the amount of money we spend locking up each juvenile offender and the high recidivism rates, it is clear we are not getting an adequate public safety return on our juvenile justice investment," said Rep. Mele Carroll, chair of the House Human Services committee. "We must focus our correctional resources on serious offenders who pose a public safety risk and we must stop the cycle of recidivism for youth who want to turn their lives around. We must also do a better job for our youth on the neighbor islands who are being sent to Honolulu due to a lack of resources in the other counties."
Last year, Hawaii enacted comprehensive criminal justice legislation with the goal of improving public safety while keeping costs in check. Act 139 (SB2776) and Act 140 (HB2515) were designed to lower recidivism, increase efficiency in the adult criminal justice system, and hold offenders accountable to victims for their crimes.
The new laws have already shown encouraging results, including a 5 percent drop in the prison population. Building on the success of this effort, known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), Hawaii will use the same data-driven and evidence-based process to analyze the juvenile justice system and further maximize its public safety investments.
The working group is composed of policymakers, practitioners and stakeholders. The group will study Hawaii's data, review evidence about what works in juvenile justice, and develop policy options to improve outcomes and reduce costs. State leaders have charged the working group with issuing a consensus report to all three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) this December that will include research findings and specific policy recommendations.
"The reform package we enacted last year shows that we can get more public safety at a lower cost," said Sen. President Kim. "By relying on Hawaii's data and the latest national research about what works in juvenile corrections, we will be able to develop more effective, less costly alternatives to our juvenile correctional facility."
"There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all approach to juvenile justice," said Chief Justice Recktenwald. "Each island should be able to count on their juvenile justice system to be responsive, targeted, and effective. This process will allow us to ensure that we develop fiscally sound juvenile justice policies that will make our state safer and our system work better for youth and their families."
The working group will receive intensive technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project. Pew and its partners have provided similar assistance to more than two dozen states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Oregon, Texas and Vermont.