Being in Prison in Hawaii has to be worse than anywhere else in the world. Sand and surf is just outside your cell, but a lifetime away. The Federal Detention Center is actually a big building, so you can see the Ocean and the beach (so I understand) but cannot set one foot in the sand.
So I’m trying something new today. Instead of publishing another story of how great I am at trial, or my random musings about current events/law, or a rap video that relates only vaguely to crime, I did something else. I wrote a “How To” for a legal website called AVVO.com. No one there has written about Hawaii’s HOPE project, a project that deserves to be written about.
HOPE is what we imagine Probation would be, if we weren’t on probation. It’s peeing in cups and attending drug treatment and reporting on time and getting arrested when you don’t. Prior to HOPE, a lot of this wasn’t happening. We have a multi-billion dollar industry creating criminals, and we put next-to-no money in rehabilitating them when they get out. A few years ago, somewhere near 200 was the average number of Probationers per Probation officer in State Court. Now, any number of people have quit or retired, and there’s no money to replace them. Who’s watching the criminals we’ve made?
What was happening was that we would put these Defendants on such strict probation, tell them they had to follow pages upon pages of rules using words like “buccal” (which two judges manage to pronounce three different ways) and tell them “Don’t screw up or you go directly to prison.” Then they had minimal supervision, and when they were called in for an appointment they said “Hell no, that guy said I was going to prison. What the hell is a buccal?”.
HOPE changes all that. The idea being that up front Defendants are treated like adults. They get told that consequences exist, and the learn about consequences from day one. Most importantly the consequences are swift and, arguably, fair. A stolen sandwich doesn’t equal prison. A stolen sandwich and disappearing for 6 months might. Relapsing on drugs, and then checking into Hina Mauka Residential doesn’t equal prison. Relapsing on drugs and then hiding out in Hau Bush might.
It is a common problem judges (and fathers) have. When you threaten that “ONLY THE ABSOLUTE WORST WILL HAPPEN TO YOU!” you have thrown away every other card in your hand. You can no longer say, “well, you deserve punishment, not prison”, because you’ve promised prison up front, and the Defendant believes you. Because he trusts you. When you say later, “I’m not going to give you prison after all”, the Defendant can no longer trust you, because you’ve demonstrably lied.
HOPE takes away all that, and talks very clearly about proportional punishments, if you try to touch the stove: your hand will get slapped. If you try to make your sister touch the stove: you will get beaten black and blue. So hopefully the program stays around, hopefully it expands.
The big fear, and this is way too preliminary of course, is what happens when Judge Alm moves on from the HOPE program? Hopefully he can make it a strong, robust self-replicating organism. The fear is that fifteen years from now, HOPE will just be another name for regular probation, and we’ll lose the things that make HOPE special, and a great way to keep our fathers and brothers out of prison.
What do you know, I guess I did write something tonight after all!