Wednesday, February 21, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Feary's family, advocates push for drug treatment law

John Feary, nephew of former Kalapana singer Mackey Feary, sings a song for his late uncle at the State Capitol.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The family of the late singer-songwriter Mackey Feary and other drug treatment advocates gathered at the State Capitol yesterday - the second anniversary of Feary’s death - to call for support for legislation that offers treatment instead of prison.

Feary, who struggled with crystal methamphetamine addiction, hanged himself in his cell at the Halawa Correctional Facility. His death has sparked a debate about substance abuse treatment and incarcerating offenders.

The House and Senate Judiciary committees have rejected Gov. Ben Cayetano’s proposal to require the courts to give nonviolent, first-time drug offenders probation and treatment instead of prison terms. The committees instead passed bills to give judges the discretion to impose a one-year jail term, although the measures still promote drug treatment for offenders.

Bills supporting the state Drug Court program, which allows offenders to avoid prison by successfully completing drug treatment, also are progressing in the Legislature.

Senate committee chairman Brian Kanno said he wanted to use incarceration as "the hammer to hold over (offenders’) heads" to motivate them to seek treatment. House committee chairman Eric Hamakawa said judges should be allowed to make decisions case by case and that some offenders may have backgrounds that would justify punishment.

Pamela Lichty, vice president of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, acknowledged the committees’ actions and said she and other treatment advocates will work on educating state policy-makers and judges about studies that show treatment helps offenders and saves the state money that would be spent on prison costs.

"We’re hearing a real new tone this year," she said. "Everybody is saying they acknowledge the need for treatment, they acknowledge that it’s more cost-effective, but there’s a concern over where we will find the money for the treatment. It will save money down the road, but you do need money up front."

Feary’s sister, former police detective Dancetta Kamai, said she and her family hope lessons will be learned from her brother’s death and that people with drug addiction and depression will get medical treatment instead of prison.

Feary was a member of the local musical group Kalapana. His family and state officials reached a $175,000 lawsuit settlement, which is pending legislative approval.

His family sued the state, saying prison officials failed to take suicide precautions with Feary even though there were signs he was a suicide risk. They also said a prison guard ordered inmates to stop performing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on Feary after they found him hanging.

Kamai yesterday said her brother had attempted suicide before, that a prison psychiatric social worker recommended he be seen by a psychiatrist for depression and suicidal precautions and that he was on anti-depressant medication.

Feary had been on probation for damaging a car in Waimalu in 1996 while his wife was in it, and for being in possession of crystal methamphetamine when he was arrested. But his probation was revoked in January 1999 after he twice tested positive for drugs.

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