Hawai’i tops at keeping paroled convicts from returning to jail

LIHU’E – Hawai’i is proud of many things everybody knows about: Beaches, island culture and island arts.

Less known is the fact that Hawai`i is a national leader in certain areas of criminology.

For example, fewer of the state’s convicted felons are rearrested while on probation than in any other state in the union.

According to a recent report from the state attorney general, only 11 percent of 1,465 Hawaiian felons on probation were arrested within three years of their release from jail for another felony.

The national rearrest average hovers around 43 percent, with some states having rates as high as 63 percent.

Even adding in procedural arrests for misdemeanors that don’t result in parole violation, the rearrest rate in Hawai`i is about 30 percent and has has been substantially lower than the national average for the past decade.

Fewer people are going to jail, too. The overall crime rate dropped in Hawai`i from 1996 through 1999.

For offenders who need them, according to corrections officials, probation gives rules to follow. And diverting certain criminals judged less dangerous leaves more jail space for violent offenders.

Across the state, it costs an average of $70 to $100 a day to house inmates. Probation services, on the other hand, cost an average of $1.57 per day, or approximately $600 a year.

Warden Neal Wagatsuma of the Kaua`i Community Correctional Center said the state numbers sound a little too positive. Wagatsuma said his department is collecting recidivism stats that they aren’t complete, but he estimated Kauai’s recent rates at closer to 50 percent.

That’s still much better than the national average, though.

“It’s hard to say” about statistics, Wagatsuma said. “A lot of it is that even if (offenders) don’t come back in, we know (because it’s a small community) that they’ve gone back to drugs.” The Kaua’i institution holds 140 inmates. When they were released for the last 20 years, inmates placed on probation went straight onto the caseload of the island’s sole parole officer, Raymond Young. But Wagatsuma said Young is retiring this year.

When Brown began, there were three parolees. Now he handles 70 or more.

“He will be missed. He does a great job,” Wagatsuma said.

Brown, who could not be reached for comment, does field checks on more than 70 former inmates.

At least on Kaua`i, Wagatsuma credits the local system for the higher success rates for inmates not reoffending.

“We have the best pre-sentence reports in the state,” said Wagatsuma, who worked in corrections on the Big Island before coming to Kaua`i 16 years ago. He’s in his ninth year as the warden here.

Staff writer Dennis Wilken can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) and dwilken@pulitzer.net

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