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Kauaʻi putting together reentry transition packs for those leaving prison

FILE - Barbed wire at the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua on Oʻahu. (Oct. 25, 2022)
Hawaiʻi Public Radio
FILE - Barbed wire at the Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua on Oʻahu. (Oct. 25, 2022)

The transition back into everyday life after being incarcerated can be difficult. For some, finding a place to stay or a ride to meet with a probation officer can be a barrier to successful reintegration.

“I would see so many of my clients struggle with substance abuse for a variety of reasons and usually the reasons are lack of transportation, lack of housing, lack of familiarity with where to go to get services,” Michael Miranda, a former probation officer said.

Miranda is the new coordinator of the County of Kauaʻi’s Life’s Choices, a program that works to reduce drug use and antisocial behaviors on the island.

In his eight years as a probation officer, he said that oftentimes, his clients would walk about 4 miles from the Kauaʻi Community Correctional Center in Wailua to Līhuʻe.

“When some of them would walk from the jail to see me at the courthouse when I was a probation officer, they would tell me about how they almost got hit by a car or they would arrive with their feet blistered, sometimes they would walk barefoot on the asphalt,” Miranda said.

A smooth transition was difficult to maintain for some.

“The lack of transportation, a lot of them had a hard time staying compliant with permission and missed their appointments or missed court dates and it would just be a perpetuated cycle of reoffending,” Miranda said.

Life’s Choices will begin distributing reentry transition packs, with support from a $5,000 Hawaiʻi State Rural Health Association microgrant.

The packs will contain bus passes, taxi vouchers, gift cards and a list of resources helpful with the transition.

Madison Smith is an undergraduate social work student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa. In addition to Life’s Choices, Smith is working with the guidance of Dr. Graham Chelius on Kauaʻi, and Dr. Kelley Withy at UH.

“We have over 100 Naloxone kits, and then a resource list that I've been working on,” Smith said. “So the resource list is going to include jobs that will hire anybody with a record, mental health resources hotline and homeless shelters.”

FILE - The Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua on Oʻahu. (Oct. 25, 2022)
Hawaiʻi Public Radio
FILE - The Women's Community Correctional Center in Kailua on Oʻahu. (Oct. 25, 2022)

Recidivism rates in Hawaiʻi were a main driver to the program’s inception, Smith said, saying, “the idea of how do we help incarcerated people reintegrate back into society like that is the million dollar question of this project.”

“About 48.9%, so that like 50%, of all incarcerated people that leave the jail system returned back to the jail system shortly,” Smith said. “It's due really to a lack of resources and a lack of how to help these people who cannot successfully integrate back into society.”

Smith hopes the program will expand to the other neighbor islands.

“We're starting from a clean slate and trying to be successful to help them reintegrate back into society, so they can become productive members,” Smith said.

But on Kauaʻi, this project is just one of many Miranda is working on. Life’s Choices has been conducting an islandwide assessment to understand the needs of youth and families on the island.

“We're trying to assess where we can pull together nonprofit agencies and other government agencies to increase protective factors such as strong schools, supportive adults, resilient communities, anything that can help youth and families be resilient and resist getting involved in antisocial or a social activities, such as substance abuse or delinquency,” Miranda said.

Sabrina Bodon is Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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