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Advocates take another shot at bail reform with new Gov. Josh Green

LIHU‘E — After coming inches away from enacting comprehensive bail reform last year, advocates are giving it another shot.

A bill to eliminate cash bail for certain low-level, nonviolent offenses — with a long list of exceptions — passed both chambers of the Legislature last session.

But it triggered a wave of backlash from the police union, prosecutors and mayors, including Kaua‘i Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami, and was ultimately vetoed by then-Gov. David Ige.

Community Alliance on Prisons Coordinator Kat Brady is optimistic that bail reform and other progressive criminal justice measures will get more traction with Gov. Josh Green taking Ige’s place in the governor’s office.

“It often felt like what we were saying was bouncing off the administration,” said Brady. “Josh’s (State of the State address) was the polar opposite of the last eight years. He thinks about people, while the last eight years were very clinical.”

This session, Brady will advocate for Senate Bill 350, which is almost identical to the bill Ige vetoed last year. It would eliminate the use of monetary bail and require defendants to be released on their own recognizance for traffic offenses, nonviolent misdemeanors and nonviolent class C felonies.

The bill also includes a range of exceptions, including for repeat offenders and those charged with breaking and entering or making threats. Because of these exceptions, it would affect a relatively small percentage of the pretrial population.

Introduced by state Sen. Karl Rhoads, the bill passed first reading last week and has been referred to the Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs, as well as the Judiciary Committee.

Though he did not specify whether he would sign a bail reform measure, Green has signaled interest in pursuing criminal justice reform.

“It goes without saying that we need justice reform,” said Green in a statement to The Garden Island. “I am open to hearing more about the multiple approaches that will be discussed during this legislative session. Fundamentally, we should not incarcerate people for minor drug offenses, especially related to their own addiction. We should get them treatment instead of putting them in prison.”

Reformers promote eliminating or limiting the use of cash bail to reduce overcrowding and keep low-income people who have not been convicted of a crime out of the penal system.

“We don’t have that many really scary people,” said Brady. “But we act like they are. When we treat them like that, people are going to conform.”

She added, “Once you’re incarcerated, how do you come back into the community? You don’t — and that’s what’s so scary.”

The recent regime of Kaua‘i prosecutors have been supportive of bail reform.

Current Kaua‘i Prosecuting Attorney Rebecca Like backed the reform push last year, pointing to the disproportionate effect the current bail system has on Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and her predecessor Justin Kollar remains a frequent critic of the cash bail system.

Reliance on cash bail contributes to overcrowding at Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center in Wailua. At KCCC, 48 out of 106 inmates are being held pretrial, according to the Jan. 30 population report.

In other jails, the problem is much worse. O‘ahu Community Correctional Center holds 1,102 inmates — 148 over capacity — and 649 of those inmates are currently being held pretrial.
Source: The Garden Island

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