PUHI — Overcrowded jails, incarceration rates, prosecuting police officers and extensive plea bargaining were topics at the Kauai candidates forum, county prosecutor session Thursday.
The two candidates for the prosecuting attorney’s office hashed out their differences in front of large crowd at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.
They were first to take the stage at the forum sponsored by several organizations. The moderators, Leilani Spencer and Patricia Wistinghausen, said the questions were set up to engage the audience.
Alice Parker came to the forum and said she wants to see a prosecutor who is tough on harsh crimes, such as murders and assaults.
“We need a prosecutor who can take those cases and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” she said.
Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said incarceration rates on Kauai and Hawaii were about the same as anywhere else in the nation. He added it was also true that Native Hawaiians and Hispanics were disproportionally targeted at higher rates.
Kollar said Kauai Community Correctional Center, which houses 128 inmates, was “busting at the seams.” He said sending an offender to the Mainland saves taxpayer money, but it poses problems for families of the offenders.
“When we are putting someone in prison for a very long time, because it is the long-term inmates that get shipped to the Mainland, we need to make sure we are putting them in prison for the right reasons and we’re doing it to the right person and we’re doing it at the right time,” he said.
Challenger Lisa Arin agreed that Kauai was not experiencing higher incarceration rates than other states but jails were overcrowded. She said this was one reason prosecutors needed to incarcerate only the most serious, violent repeat offenders.
She said that might mean looking for alternatives to incarceration for offenders of victimless crimes and contempt of courts.
Kollar said his office has supported various alternatives to incarceration programs, including Drug Court, mental health court, veteran’s court, teen court, girl’s court. He said he would continue to support those programs into his second term.
Arin was endorsed by State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, while Kollar was not. Moderators asked them to explain why.
Kollar, who has been Kauai County prosecutor since 2012 after defeating incumbent Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, said a SHOPO representative told him they would decline to endorse him after his office had prosecuted a Kauai Police Department officer who had allegedly run over and killed a 19-year-old man in Hanapepe while responding to an accident.
He said former prosecutor Iseri-Carvarlho was also endorsed by SHOPO.
Kollar said he receives support from police officers and community members almost every day.
“I’m approached by members of the community on a daily basis that tell me they appreciate that I do have the guts to make the difficult decision and when I see trouble, I don’t just put my head down and ignore it, I put my head up and keep moving forward,” he said. “That’s what the community elected me to do.”
Arin said she would work hand-in-hand with the police department, but also know when to say no when she didn’t agree with cases officers thought should be prosecuted.
When moderators asked about plea bargaining, Arin said there was “currently extensive plea bargaining going on” at the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney.
“If it doesn’t adequately address the nature of the offender’s conduct or their criminal history then it’s inappropriate or ineffective,” Arin said. “Then that case shouldn’t have been resolved in that manner. Plea bargaining is part of the process. That doesn’t mean that none or very little of the cases should be going to trial.”
Kollar said plea bargaining was not going to go away, but it was an important tool that when used right, is very effective.