Hawaii Island drug offender among dozens granted early release by president

David Lang Akana

A Hawaii Island man serving a 20-year sentence will have his prison time cut in half, thanks to President Obama.

The president commuted the sentences of 61 drug offenders Wednesday. Among them, David Lang Akana, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison back in 2006 for drug convictions involving cocaine and methamphetamine.

He is now scheduled to be released in July.

We wanted to know more about the process and what happens when he’s released.

Akana is 69 years old and is serving time at a medium-security federal prison in California. KHON2 has learned that even after he’s released, he will still be under the jurisdiction of the federal prison system.

Ken Lawson, a faculty member at University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, says inmates whose sentences are commuted don’t exactly just walk out of the prison scot-free. They first must live in a halfway house.

“He could be there anywhere from a month up to six months and then while he’s there, he’s got to get a job. It’s mandatory that you get employment and meet certain conditions and then after you leave the halfway house, you go in supervised release for maybe up to five years where he’s going to be monitored,” Lawson said.

Monitoring includes regular visits from a probation officer, and they must call in every night to see if they have to come down for a drug test. Each former inmate is assigned a color that determines when they go.

“You call in and you listen to a recording and they say tomorrow the colors are red, blue, and green, and if you are one of those colors, you have to go down to the probation office and then drop urine to make sure that you’re not doing drugs or doing anything illegal,” Lawson said.

We checked Akana’s criminal records and found out that he was also found guilty of promoting a dangerous drug in 1992, and was sentenced to a year in prison. He was also found guilty of driving under the influence in 1978.

The inmates whose sentences were cut short by the president are all non-violent offenders. Lawson says they received sentences that they didn’t deserve.

“You’ve got people serving time for a small amount of crack cocaine serving more time than people who committed two homicides,” Lawson said.

Lawson says the sentencing guidelines were much stricter 10 to 20 years ago, and many are now realizing that justice was not really served.

Akana was the only Hawaii offender to have his sentence commuted by President Obama.

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