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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 27, 2003

Policy study needed before building prisons

A study commissioned by the Lingle administration on the state of our aging and overcrowded prison system makes a strong case for a massive rebuilding and expansion program.

But before the state moves forward on what could be a 10-year, $1 billion program, it should conduct a thorough policy review of what it expects its prisons to accomplish in the first place.

Gov. Linda Lingle and Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona came into office with a strong program designed to lessen the need for prison space by improving and expanding drug-treatment and diversion programs. Aiona, who had served as a drug court judge, knew that simply warehousing people with significant substance-abuse problems did little good.

That approach must not be allowed to sink under the weight of the obvious physical needs of the existing prison system. Some community advocates fear that if a massive new rebuilding and expansion programs is launched, the treatment aspect will be lost in the shuffle.

Lingle and Aiona must not allow that to happen. And as part of the policy review that must precede any major construction effort, the state should take a fresh look at mandatory sentencing laws to see how much they contribute to our over-crowded conditions.