New effort launched to increase public safety

The state wants juveniles to be held accountable for their actions. Wednesday, several legislators, including Governor Neil Abercrombie, announced a new initiative to cut juvenile crime.

A new group will take a look at the state’s juvenile justice system, and develop new policy recommendations for the 2014 legislature.

“That evidence-based process will help us to inform us and instruct us as to what we want to do by way of legislation or by way of guidance to the justice system,” Governor Neil Abercrombie said.

“If this working group comes out with recommendations where we can cut our costs, then we can take some of that savings and put it into these youth programs,” (D) Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said.

Many youth suffer from substance abuse addiction, mental health issues and family dysfunction and are in custody due to the lack of accessible treatment.

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.

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 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.

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