Staying crime-free has its ups and downs

WAILUA – Kaua’i Community Correctional Center warden Neal Wagatsuma has won recognition statewide for an innovative rehabilitation program to encourage inmates to stay free of crime.

Yet, five years after it was created, the Lifetime Stand program is going to be revamped because about half of the 1,000 inmates in the program are forecast to be rearrested or to return crime, tripped up by lying, drug use and parole violations.

The program, however, has merit, and steps will be taken to strengthen and improve it, Wagatsuma said.

“Even the worst Lifetime Stand participant is better than a lot of the best inmates at other (jail) facilities in the state,” Wagatsuma said.

There is no other program like it in the U.S.

Inmates in the program say they are encouraged to confront the reasons that led them to a life of crime, to make changes and to work toward a better life after their prison sentences are up.

Steps are underway to widen the scope of the program by intensifying training. A musical band also has been added to the program, partly to raise morale.

The inmates should stay in the program a minimum of three years to receive full benefits from it, Wagatsuma said.

“The longer they stay in, the better they will be,” he said.

Some inmates returned to a life of crime because they didn’t receive enough support from family members and friends, Wagatsuma said.

During the best five years, the facility staged four ceremonies in which 24 participants publicly proclaimed they would never commit another crime. They promised not to use illicit drugs, abuse alcohol, assault others or cause harm to others. Yet, 10 participants failed.

Until the program is reworked, Wagatsuma said he won’t hold another public ceremony.

“If the community is willing to give their trust to these people, then they have to do their part not to betray that trust,” Wagatsuma said.

The program has worked for many other inmates partly because they are allowed to express their individuality without being judged or criticized by their peers, Wagatsuma said.

Most of the inmate participants need guidance before they can make the changes, though, Wagatsuma said.

“”They don’t have social skills. They come from dysfunctional families. They have a defiance toward authority,” he said.

The program currently involves 80 of the 142 inmates at the Wailua facility. The offenders have been convicted of drug use, driving under the influence, theft and other felonies.

The project has its roots in the “cabin” program, a rehabilitation project. Wagatsuma said he converted the program into Lifetime Stand because of complaints from some inmates that the cabin program was too hard. There also were complaints about drug use and indifferent attitudes of inmates in the program.

Lifetime Stand consists of four phases. The first is a military-style boot camp; the second phase consists of community service and therapeutic training; phase 3 involves work-release and education; and phase 4 involves the proclamation by graduates that they will stay away from crime.

“The biggest incentive for them to go through the program is to make them realize that if they go back to crime again, they may get involved in something that they will regret for the rest of their lives,” Wagatsuma said.

• Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@pulitzer.net

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