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Bill to reform cash bail finds vocal opponents, supporters

prison wire correctional jail
David Madison
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Some drops in prison populations were offset by increases at local jails, especially in rural areas.

On Wednesday, Hawaiʻi's four county mayors joined with state lawmakers, the police union and Honolulu Prosecutor Steven Alm to urge Gov. David Ige to veto a bill that would eliminate cash bail for some nonviolent offenders.

House Bill 1567 primarily covers nonviolent misdemeanors and Class C felonies. Violent crimes, like assaults or domestic violence, and repeat offenders or those awaiting trial, would still need to post bail.

“I've been vocal against it in every way, in every venue I possibly can, and that included meeting with Gov. Ige a couple of weeks ago in his office on this,” said Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who led the press conference.

He continued to say the bill has “a snowball’s change in hell of passing” but that the press conference was more of a “statement about our support of our police department and the future of our cities.”

Opponents to the bill argue the reform would increase crime rates and embolden criminals, since certain burglary and identity theft crimes would be bail-exempt.

Even the bill’s introducer, Kailua Rep. Scot Matayoshi, asked the governor to veto it.

But those in favor of the bill have called it a “modest” attempt at reform. The proposed legislation would still give judges discretion to set bail based on each individual case, and the bill would not include low-level drug offenders.

Reducing jailed populations is one potential outcome of bail reform that’s been proven to work in California and New Jersey, according to reports from the Vera Institute and The Marshall Project.

Oftentimes, pretrial defendants unable to afford to post bail become incarcerated. In 2021, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported that more than 60% of detained inmates are unable to afford to post bail.

Hawaiʻi Health and Harm Reduction’s Nikos Leverenz said the hardship of posting bail can be all-encompassing for some, and can lead to a cycle of poverty.

According to the Community Alliance on Prisons, in 2020, of 6,591 people admitted to a state community correction center, nearly 38% reported being homeless.

“We have a situation where people who are too poor to pay cash bail are incarcerated, and what happens when they're incarcerated is that they're unable to continue caring for their children,” Leverenz said Wednesday. “If they have a job, they're unable to continue holding that job. If they're incarcerated for long enough, whatever housing that they have is jeopardized.”

Leverenz went further to say that the lack of bail reform and probation creates conditions for further poverty, substance abuse and marginalization.

“In the context of an arrest, people are innocent until proven guilty,” Leverenz said.

Still, opponents say this bill would erode the judicial system. Prosecutor Alm said there will need to be more funding for an overhaul of the bail system that is just not represented in this bill.

“We’ve got to come up with a better solution that replaces it with an entirely new structure,” Alm said Wednesday.

Ige has until June 27 to announce whether or not he plans to veto the bill.

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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