Posted tagged ‘prisons’

Prisoners jump the line

January 20, 2011

I don’t know what it is with Hawai‘i Democrats and their prisoners.

In 2006, Randall Iwase tried to wrest the governorship from Linda Lingle on a promise to create a “prison industry” — an issue that landed with one of the all-time great thuds.

Now comes Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who before he has done a thing to keep his campaign promises to straighten out the deficit-ridden state budget and stimulate the economy, is making a priority of bringing home the 1,900 Hawai‘i felons serving their time in mainland prisons.

There’s nothing wrong with striving to improve conditions for prisoners, but in what sane universe do they jump to the front of the line in a crushing recession — ahead of law-abiding working families and needy children, seniors and sick people who have lost their safety net?

The prisoners were first sent to the mainland by the last Democratic governor, Ben Cayetano, because local prisons were overcrowded and no Hawai‘i community would host new facilities.

It was no small side benefit in Cayetano’s recession and the current one that it costs half as much to house a prisoner on the mainland as in Hawai‘i.

The latest call to bring the prisoners home was spurred by a lawsuit alleging inmate abuse in an Arizona facility. Ironically, it came out around the same time as news footage broke showing Hawai‘i prison guards giving a prisoner an extended beating and kicking him in the head while he was on the ground.

The Abercrombie administration proposes to get around the overcrowding problem in local prisons by turning up to 1,000 inmates loose into community-based reentry programs. The problem is that few such programs exist and would have to be funded and built out.

Many Hawai‘i inmates are doing fine in mainland prisons — some have said they prefer it because of better rehabilitation opportunities — and it’s the wrong time to be devoting more state resources to their incarceration when there are far more pressing needs.

The new administration needs to learn that having too many priorities is the same as having no priorities at all.


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