Judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, probation officers, and substance abuse experts were used to seeing a cycle: a drug addict would commit a crime, get locked up, serve time, get released, and eventually get arrested again. Incarcerating the drug addict wasn’t solving the problem, and it was time to think of another approach. That’s how Drug Court came to be.
Drug Court is a probation sentence with conditions designed to get participants clean and prevent them from relapsing and turning to criminal behavior. As an alternative to jail time, the substance abuse program also assists with Hawaii’s problem of prison overcrowding and saves the community money.
The Maui/Molokaʻi Drug Court started in August 2000 and has been going strong, currently serving 127 adult clients (123 on Maui and 4 on Molokai). In November 2017, the program held its 61st graduation ceremony and celebrated a milestone of helping over 600 successful graduates.
“The Maui/Molokaʻi Drug Court Program’s success arises from the efforts of the entire community, including countless volunteers who provide clean and sober support for participants, community service and non-profit agencies, families, friends, employers, the Department of Education, University of Hawaiʻi Maui College, Department of Human Services, the County of Maui, the Homeless Resource Centers, and numerous treatment service providers,” said Second Circuit Chief Judge Joseph Cardoza, one of the presiding judges of the Maui/Molokaʻi Drug Court since 2000. “I’d like to extend a very special thanks to our Drug Court Team, which includes the Maui Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, Office of the Public Defender, Maui County attorneys, court and probation officers, the Maui County Police Department, Maui Community Correctional Center, and the Maui Office of the Hawaii Paroling Authority.
“The Maui Community Correctional Center has been instrumental in the Drug Court Program’s operation of two treatment dorms, one for men and one for women. These dorms offer 24/7 drug treatment and sober living for participants transitioning from the correctional setting to the community. The dorms provide essential treatment, and public safety during the critical transition period, a feature rarely found in the criminal justice system in the United States,” Chief Judge Cardoza added.
Drug Court is a comprehensive program that treats drug addiction with sanctions and incentives, sober support meetings, mental health and medical follow-up, continual court interaction, drug testing, and probation monitoring. Participants have to work, keep up with restitution payments and other bills, pay taxes, and complete 30 hours of restorative justice. The program also makes sure that clients have improved relationships with family, dependable transportation, and have either their GED or Competency-Based diploma.
Dean J. Ishihara, LSW ACSW, Administrator of the Maui/Moloka’i Drug Court, admits it’s not an easy program and not everyone makes it all the way to graduation.
“It costs $6.65 per day each year to treat and supervise a drug court client, while the cost of incarcerating an inmate in Hawaii is $140 per day,” noted Ishihara. “Statistics on Maui/Molokai Drug Court clients who complete their treatment and graduate from the program show that three years after graduation more than 85 percent are not convicted of any new felony offenses. This outcome is consistent with numerous studies, including findings from the National Institute of Justice, which show that, after graduation, drug court participants have less involvement in criminal activity, and significantly less use of illegal drugs or heavy use of alcohol.”
Aerosmith founding member and lead singer Steven Tyler has attended the Maui/Moloka’i Drug Court program graduation as a guest speaker a couple of times, and encouraged graduates to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and other support group meetings, as he does, to keep on the right path.
“It’s an honor to be part of a new society where judges and – as they said today — police officers are involved in knowing when someone’s in trouble, what drugs they’re on and offering them, if they go through the program, to get out of jail,” Tyler said.
Tyler said he has seen the “complete turnaround” people can experience through Drug Court. “You never see that in jails,” he said. “People don’t change. You can’t get anybody to change. But here they change.”
For more information on the Maui Drug Court, contact the program administrator at (808) 442-3850. For information on the Molokai Drug Court, call (808) 553-3397.