Prison reform will change lives for the better

After two and a half years, “Relatives and Friends of the Incarcerated” can celebrate a small victory in the arena of prison reform.

As of Tuesday, July 9, Senate Bill 1077 was passed into law. Legislation first drafted in the House HB 366 then crossed to the Senate where it would include a rape kit clause. The bill referred to as the “Disclosure Bill” will effectively let the sitting governor of Hawaii know within 48 hours of the death of an incarcerated person or an employee within the prison system.

Upon notification the information will then proceed to the respective committees in the Legislature who will then determine if an investigation is warranted. In addition, the public will have to be informed.

This bill was drafted following the tragic death in November 2016 of Mr. Greg Silva, an inmate at the Kauai Community Correctional Center. He perished in solitary confinement of a methamphetamine overdose. Had this law been in effect during this incident it is almost certain than an impartial investigation of the circumstances would have been conducted. Crucial questions would have been asked of the authorities in charge. The family would have had closure, which to this date has not occurred.

Equally important to the public, whose taxes fund this county facility, would have been informed. Transparency is a good thing, without it the damage inflicted to the incarcerated, their families and the general community sour the effectiveness of our correctional institutions.

During this two-and-a-half year journey of “RFI” we acquired a formidable education as to the nature of the Hawaii prison system. In the forward of the HCR 85 Task Force Report on Prison Reform, prepared for the 2019 Legislature called, “Creating Better Outcomes, Safer Communities,”… the consensus of the group concluded, “Hawaii’s Correctional System is not producing acceptable, cost effective outcomes and needs profound change … They continue to say, “Our primary recommendation is that Hawaii immediately begin to transition from a punitive to a rehabilitative correctional system.”

Our group hopes this new law helps begin the shift.

There were many people along the way who contributed to the success of this bill becoming law. We wish to thank each and everyone of them. We are humbly grateful for their help. We hope to continue to work with them in the future.

After many decades of a disclosure protocol which insulated information about inmate information about inmate deaths from the community, we are hopeful that exposure to the governor, the Legislature and public will begin to provide for a safer more compassionate environment for those who serve time in Hawaii’s prisons.

Michelle Deitch, a leading expert in prison oversight said, “Insular environments tend to put prisoners at risk of abuse, neglect and poor conditions. And the lack of outside scrutiny provides no challenge to this treatment … Community pressure and oversight has to be put on the prison system to ensure this law is followed or else it will be business as usual.”

Mr.Greg Silva did not die in vain. His untimely death propelled this law into action. May his soul rest in peace.

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Blu Dux is a resident of Kalaheo.

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