Forging smarter prisons

There are four correctional centers and four prisons in Hawaii. I’ve never visited a prison, so I don’t know anything about the living conditions. But I do know that we have over 1,800 inmates living out-of-state, and there must be a way that we can house them in Hawaii, close to family and friends. Yes, prison is a punishment; but we’re also punishing their families and making them feel even more isolated.

I don’t advocate building more prisons – we don’t have the money for it, and it doesn’t help prevent crime. We need to do more with the prisons we already have.

How can we run more efficient prisons that also help strengthen the inmates’ ties to the community?

* Run no-frills prisons. Basic meals: cereal and toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and one hot meal for dinner. No cable TV, no gyms, no recreation facilities; no Internet access. If we run out of beds, use tents. Hikers, campers, and mountaineers live in tents without complaint. How about flowery or Spongebob Squarepants uniforms and pink underwear for men? It works for Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa, Arizona. It could work here.

* Grow more prison gardens. Let’s help prisoners grow more of their own food and beautify the prison grounds too. Since 2004, the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua has had a lei garden and taro lo‘i, thanks to a grant from the Garden Club of America; and since 2008, they have had a hydroponic (soil-free) garden for lettuce and tomatoes, with the help of the Lani-Kailua Outdoor Circle. Wahiawa Correctional Facility also has a horticulture program which produces vegetables for inmates. Is there an update about these garden programs? Why can’t we expand garden programs to more prisons? 

* Start a “night inmate” program. In addition to “work release” programs for non-violent first-time offenders, consider a “night prison” program so that inmates can go to work during the day (or night) and spend time with family, but must spend at least 12 hours in prison (or a secure facility). They would be allowed at the job site (unless their supervisor sends them off-site with written permission), their home, an approved relative’s home, or in transit; any other visits must be approved in advance by a corrections officer. The benefits: inmates are still connected to their family and the community; they could hold a job; and they could pay for their incarceration and/or restitution. Obviously, the idea needs a lot of study, and I don’t know if it could work. But it’s something to think about.

These ideas won’t deter crime, but they could help us save money, so that we can run more efficient prisons, Hawaii inmates can stay in Hawaii, and we can strengthen community ties. What do you think?

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