In 2013, Hawaii’s juvenile justice system was still in dire need of improvement. Governor Neil Abercrombie, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, and House Speaker Joseph Souki established the Hawaii Juvenile Justice Working Group.

Reforming Hawaii Juvenile Justice System

Hawaii’s juvenile justice system was still in dire need of improvement.

In 1987, Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF) was facing heavy criticism, audits, and legal action. In response, the Office of Youth Services (OYS) was formed to oversee HYCF and provide a continuum of services and programs for at-risk youth.

By 2004, HYCF had declined so much that the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in. The DOJ was concerned about the lack of standard policies and procedures in Hawaii’s juvenile justice system and the use of excessive force and abuse of youth in the facility. HYCF remained under DOJ supervision for 7 years.

In 2013, Hawaii’s juvenile justice system was still in dire need of improvement. Governor Neil Abercrombie, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, and House Speaker Joseph Souki established the Hawaii Juvenile Justice Working Group. The Working Group consisted of a bipartisan, interpanel panel of 20 stakeholders from the three branches of government along with members of law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, and community service providers. They were given the task of developing recommendations that would reduce juvenile crime and recidivism, maximize the effective of funds invested into the juvenile justice system, and ensure that Hawaii’s policies are based on statistics and facts.

Here are some of the Working Group’s key findings:

– From 2004 to 2013, juvenile arrests and commitments in Hawaii decreased 41%.

– Despite commitments trending downward, average lengths of stay was 188% longer in 2013 than in 2004, increasing from 2.5 months to 7.2 months.

– 75% of the youth were re-adjudicated as delinquents or convicted as adults within three years of being released.

– 41% of commitments in 2013 were for probation violations or revocations.

– 61% of youth who were sent to HYCF for new offenses were convicted of misdemeanors and 72 percent committed non-violent crimes including property and drug crimes, contempt of court, disorderly conduct, truancy, and running away from home.

– Underlying causes of minor, nonviolent offenses often involve family dysfunction, trauma, and substance abuse.

– 80% of juveniles involved in the Hawaii justice system suffer from substance abuse. If left untreated, behavior may escalate and result in future criminal activity, joblessness, and homelessness.

– Criteria for mental health services were so restrictive that most youth involved in the system were ineligible for support.

– There was a disproportionate share of commitments from neighbor islands. While the neighbor islands are home to 31% of Hawaii’s youth population (ages 10-17), 46% of admissions in 2013 were from neighbor islands.

– Each bed at Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF) cost $199,320 annually.

– Probation time increased 155% since 2005, from 8.1 months to 20.6 months. However, the margin varied by region. For example, juveniles served an average of 15.6 months probation on Kauai compared to 26.6 months in Oahu.

– There was a lack of interventions available and difficulty accessing the limited services that did exist. For example, there was only one residential substance abuse facility in Hawaii. When surveyed, 98% of probation officers said community resources for probation-level youth on the caseloads were adequate and 87% said necessary services were unavailable.

– Long wait times and administrative criteria usually delayed or hindered mental health and substance abuse treatments. Early invention would greatly improve the chances of preventing future offenses.

Recommendations based on key findings:

– Confine juveniles to HYCF only to the most serious offenders who pose a public safety risk, including those who have committed felony level offenses, violated parole, and those sent on a court order. The court must detail why each youth being sent to a secure facility is a public safety risk.

– HYCF needs to clarify the criteria and procedures used to release youth. That way, the process will be transparent for the offender, their families, and the agencies that work with youth on parole.

– For every youth committed, HYCF has to write a reentry plan that includes goals, strengths, restitution, and rehabilitation efforts within 30 days. HYCF should be developed with the youth’s family, who should also receive a copy of the plan and regular progress updates.

– Give probation officers the authority to redirect certain youth to community-based alternatives. Reports including the number and types of referrals deviated from the system need to be submitted monthly to the deputy chief court administrator in each circuit to ensure that the authority is not being misused.

– Expand the use of informal adjustment, a non-judicial, administrative disposition of a referral, where the juvenile and custodian agree to certain terms, without a court hearing.

– Targeting beds only to the most serious offenders frees up resources which should be reinvested in alternatives for youths who don’t need to be placed in a secure facility. These resources should be allocated to address substance abuse, including residential and outpatient services, as well as mental health services and regular training for parole officers.

– Review the eligibility requirements for mental health services and ensure at-risk youth receive comprehensive, timely treatment.

– Provide youth on probation with constant structure using personalized case plans, home visits, and clear terms.

– Allow incentives to encourage following probation conditions. One of these incentives should be the opportunity to earn early discharge, which encourages positive behavior and enables probation officers to focus their energy on the youth who need it most.

– Adopt an interagency cluster model to serve high-need youth. Family Court takes charge of the service plan with monthly meetings and support from other agencies including the DOH, DHS, and DOE.

– Create a system to continually track and evaluate performance of implemented practices and procedures.

– Create an advisory council to implement the improvements, analyze results, and provide updates to the Legislature.

These recommendations resulted in HB 2490, which was passed unanimously by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Neil Abercrombie on July 2, 2014.

Using grants, OYS has been able to expand available services for youth at-risk and currently involved in Hawaii’s juvenile justice system. Grant activities include the following:

– Kupuna Program for youth at HYCF that allows them to participate in cultural activities such as arts and crafts, hula, mele, talk story, and performances.

– Reporting Center program that aims to lessen unneeded secure confinement and decrease re-arrest rates by 40%

– Youth-on Probation Program helps court-involved youth in Kauai adhere to the terms set forth by the court.

– Big Island Assessment Center diverts certain minor law violators from the court system. Police bring the youth to a 24-hour intake and assessment center and from there, the offender either receives appropriate support services or is referred to a case worker.

– Ho’opono Mamo is a diversion system that provides status offenders to clear their arrest record. The process involves an assessment center, healing and forgiveness residential program, and community conferencing.

– The Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) Program aids the development and implementation of programs that will hold youth accountable for delinquent behavior, help the juvenile justice system become more efficient, and work with community partners to prevent the youth from committing future criminal activity. JABG has programs in Maui, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Kauai counties.

From 2013 to 2016:

– Total juvenile arrests decreased 12% from 6,541 to 5,750.

– Total juvenile petitions, when a case is filed formally and appears on a court calendar, decreased 33% from 4,378 to 2,954.

– Total juvenile adjudications decreased 32% from 2,101 to 1,430.

– Total new juvenile probation sentences decreased 55% from 531 to 236.

– Total juvenile confinements to HYCF decreased 57% from 125 to 54.