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Maui Youth Experts Recommend Investing in Prevention

Group studying why Hawai‘i’s expenditures are not adding up to better outcomes for youth.

December 5, 2013
Karen Worthington - Contributing Writer , Maui Weekly

Hawai'i spends $22.75 per hour to house a youth at Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF) on O'ahu and about $11.17 per hour to educate a youth in a public school. Hawai'i's bipartisan Juvenile Justice Working Group is studying these numbers to see why the state's expenditures are not adding up to better outcomes for youth.

In October, Juvenile Justice Working Group Co-chair Rep. Mele Carroll (D, 13th District) and representatives of the Pew Charitable Trusts hosted a meeting at the Cameron Center for Maui stakeholders. About 30 people, including a concerned grandmother, youth workers, probation officers, public health and mental health professionals, and a prosecutor attended to share their thoughts on what is working in Maui's juvenile justice system and what improvements are needed.

The 20-member working group was created in August by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Hawai'i Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, and House and Senate leadership. The group's goal is to increase the public safety return from Hawai'i's juvenile corrections spending. It will present evidence-based, data-driven recommendations for juvenile justice reform to the governor and the Legislature in time for the 2014 session. The Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project and its partners are providing technical assistance, as they have done for similar initiatives in many other states.

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Juvenile Justice Working Group Co-chair Rep. Mele Carroll (D, 13th District) and representatives of the Pew Charitable Trusts hosted a meeting at the Cameron Center to discuss what is working in Maui’s juvenile justice system and what improvements are needed.

Twenty-six percent of youth committed to HYCF over the last three fiscal years were from Maui, even though Maui only has about 12 percent of the state's under-18 population. Meeting attendees said Maui sends so many youth to HYCF because there are not appropriate alternatives on the island.

A probation officer said, "We have low-end programs without an alternative for high-end folks." He said that although the court would like to use residential placement less often, by the time the probation officers see the kids, the less restrictive alternatives don't work. In addition, there aren't foster homes for these youth, so HYCF is the only option.

Maui girls in the juvenile justice system are at a greater disadvantage than boys because Maui has an eight-bed "safe house" for boys but not one for girls. Thirty-one percent of girls committed to HYCF in the last three years were from Maui. Attendees suggested that this change, asking, "Why can we have a boys' home and not a girls' home?"

Sending youth to O'ahu for services is an expensive option that separates youth from their families and communities. The annual cost of one bed at HYCF is $199,320. With 56 beds, the facility budget is $11,161,929 per year. Fifty-six percent of youth released from HYCF are readjudicated or reconvicted within one year. Over a three-year period, this recidivism rate rises to 75 percent.

In fiscal year 2011, Hawai'i spent $12,004 per pupil in the public school system and had a high school graduation rate of about 80 percent.

When the working group was launched, Carroll said, "With the amount of money we spend locking up each juvenile offender and the high recidivism rates, it is clear we are not getting an adequate public safety return on our juvenile justice investment."

Carroll also said, "We must also do a better job for our youth on the Neighbor Islands who are being sent to Honolulu due to a lack of resources in the other counties."

The working group has found that what happens to a youth who breaks the law varies widely depending on where he or she lives. The disparate treatment for similar offenses creates uncertainty for youth, victims and communities.

The working group is exploring options to leverage and reallocate resources across the juvenile justice system to achieve better outcomes for youth. Maui stakeholders emphasized the need to invest in youth and families, not in "systems."

Iris Mountcastle, director of the Maui Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center (QLCC), said, "Kids want adults in their lives they can connect with and look up to."

Resources on Maui that help youth build positive connections with adults include Maui youth centers, multi-systemic therapy provided by Parents and Children Together, Boys and Girls Clubs, and cultural activities such as those provided through QLCC and Lo'iloa.

Attendees called for investing in prevention to strengthen families and reduce criminal behavior.

Jeny Bissell, a supervisor with the family health services section of the Maui District Health Office, said, "If we can inoculate our kids with healthy coping skills, we can keep them out of the criminal justice system. Our children have very short lists of coping strategies. Our kuleana is to make sure youth have enough support that they don't end up killing themselves or committing a crime."

David Hipp, executive director of the Hawai'i Office of Youth Services, which operates HYCF, agrees that investing in prevention is needed. "I am hopeful that strategies and policies will be developed to more effectively address the needs of troubled and at-risk youth at the 'front end,' thereby lessening the reliance on incarcerating as a solution to juvenile delinquency."

Hipp works with a Maui initiative to improve Maui's juvenile justice outcomes. Kulike Pono No Na Keiki grew out of the Maui Police Department (MPD) Positive Outreach Intervention Project. This multi-disciplinary group includes representatives from family court, Maui Police Department, state Department of Education, the prosecutor's office, the public defender's office, mental health and local service providers. The group wants to address the needs of youth at their first contact with law enforcement, so they never enter the formal juvenile justice system.

Paula Ambre, executive director of the Maui Farm, said there were more prevention services available when Hawai'i was under the Felix Consent Decree, which required the state to improve services for students with mental and emotional disabilities. When that consent decree was terminated in May 2005, Ambre saw services "systematically dismantled and defunded." She cautions the working group, "If we are going to come together as a community, what we create needs to be sustainable."

Maui residents who were not able to attend the meeting are encouraged to provide their input by contacting Juvenile Justice Working Group Co-chairs Rep. Carroll, Chief Family Court Judge R. Mark Browning, and Department of Human Services Deputy Director Barbara Yamashita. The next legislative sessions begins on Jan. 15, 2014.

"Please call me so I can be your voice at the table," said Carroll at the conclusion of the meeting.



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