New Report Released on Prison Visitation

A new report has just been issued by the Prison Policy Institute on the importance of visitation in the rehabilitation of incarcerated people. In Hawai`i visitation has been a huge problem mostly caused by “sick outs” of the correctional officers. Our incarcerated people in AZ have an even greater problem, with very few actually seeing their loved ones while they are incarcerated there. Where is the aloha?

Separation by Bars and Miles: New report finds that great distances make prison visits few and far between
Prison Policy Initiative, October 2015

“The report finds that distance from home is a strong predictor for whether an incarcerated person receives a visit.

“‘For far too long, the national data on prison visits has been limited to incarcerated parents. We use extensive yet under-used Bureau of Justice Statistics data to shed light on the prison experience for all incarcerated people, finding that prisons are lonely places,’


“The report focuses on incarcerated people in state prisons and is a collaboration between Prison Policy Initiative staff and data scientist Daniel Kopf of the organization’s Young Professionals Network.”

So glad to see this report that was released today about visitation and the importance of people inside the walls staying connected to their loved ones and to the world outside the walls that imprison them. More than 95% of all incarcerated persons will return home. How do we want them to come back to their communities … lost and angry or energized and ready to rejoin their families and neighbors?

Mahalo for caring about justice. It is going to take about a million more voices to wake up the people who live in the world of retribution and punishment. The “Justice” system is a huge government project (and expenditure of our tax dollars) with NO EVIDENCE THAT IT WORKS! In fact, there is plenty of evidence that there are better, more effective and yes, more efficient, ways to improve the quality of justice. We need to get rid of the FEAR POLITICS that drives mass incarceration.



Today’s post is about criminal justice reform and starts off with an interesting article mentioning that political scientist Marie Gottschalk calls for a “third Reconstruction.”  The article goes on to say “But the language of “reconstruction” can’t be employed without considering what preceded it—abolition. We abolished the institution of slavery. We abolished legalized segregation. If we want a third Reconstruction to take place, the abolition of prisons should be on the table.”  This is a question that I have been pondering for years … what would we do if we had a world with no prisons? How would we address wrongdoing?

The subsequent articles highlight the Obama administration’s commitment to criminal justice reform, the reforms that have been introduced in Congress, misconceptions underlying opposition to reforms, and ending up with a short video by the Koch Institute on Sentencing.

  1. Making a case for prison abolition, not just sentencing and prison reform
  2. The Senate’s Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill Only Tackles Half the Problem
  3. Obama launches criminal justice tour: ‘Something I’ll keep fighting for’
  4. Sentencing Reform: A Page From the Old Playbook?
  5. 6 Misconceptions Underlying Opposition to Sentencing Reform
  6. Short Video From The Charles Koch Institute On Sentencing

Making a case for prison abolition, not just sentencing and prison reform
Sentencing Law & Policy Blog, Oct. 17, 2015

This notable article (following) in The Nation authored by Mychal Denzel Smith seeks to make the case for a prison abolition movement that would go far beyond the kinds of sentencing reform garnering bipartisan support these day.  This commentary is headlined, ‘The Senate’s Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill Only Tackles Half the Problem: If we don’t face the injustice of the very existence of prisons, the root causes of mass incarceration will go unaddressed.'”


The Senate’s Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill Only Tackles Half the Problem
If we don’t face the injustice of the very existence of prisons, the root causes of mass incarceration will go unaddressed.
Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, Oct. 14, 2015


If the US is serious about reducing high levels of concentrated violence,” Gottschalk writes, “then addressing the country’s high levels of inequality and concentrated poverty should become a top priority, not a public-policy afterthought.

Determination to “do something” about the issue of mass incarceration has, at last, moved from the academic and activist worlds into the halls of Congress: At the beginning of October, a bipartisan coalition of Senators, including Chuck Grassley, Dick Durbin, Cory Booker, John Cornyn, and Tim Scott, unveiled a criminal-justice-reform plan. Whether that “something” they’re doing is commensurate to the scale of the problem, though, depends on the terms of the debate.


“Abolition makes sense, though, only if we see prisons as a site of injustice in and of themselves. And they are—not only because of the violence of rape and murder that exists within prison walls, the psychological damage, the lack of educational opportunities, and the denial of due process that locks up innocent people. Prison is the means by which we tell ourselves we are dealing with our societal ills, but only creating more. Prison makes us lazy thinkers, hungry for revenge instead of justice. Prison is a violent representation of our failure to fight inequality at all levels. In abolishing prison, we force ourselves to answer the difficult question: How do we provide safety and security for all people? Abolition will not win right now. But an abolitionist framework for crafting reforms would lead to more substantial changes in the US prison system. An abolitionist framework makes us consider not only reducing mandatory minimums but eliminating them altogether. An abolitionist framework would call for us to decriminalize possession and sale of drugs. Abolition would end the death penalty and life sentences, and push the maximum number of years that can be served for any offense down to ten years, at most. ….”


Obama launches criminal justice tour: ‘Something I’ll keep fighting for’
Gregory Korte, USA Today, Oct. 17, 2015


“WASHINGTON — President Obama said Saturday that he’ll launch a nationwide criminal justice tour next week, an effort that he says will ‘highlight some of the Americans who are doing their part to fix our criminal justice system.’

“‘Much of our criminal justice system remains unfair,’ Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday morning. “In recent years, more of our eyes have been opened to this truth. We can’t close them anymore. And good people, of all political persuasions, are eager to do something about it.”


Sentencing Reform: A Page From the Old Playbook?
William R. Kelly, The Crime Report, Oct. 13, 2015

“It has been a busy month so far for federal criminal justice reform. On October 1, the Senate unveiled the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. On October 8, the House Sentencing Reform Act was introduced.

“The bills share much in common and have been portrayed as “comprehensive,” “extensive,” “landmark legislation,” a “game-changer,” and “the most important federal criminal justice overhaul in a generation.” But there are many questions about the mechanics of this legislation, as well as questions about the longer-term consequences—such as their impact on federal incarceration levels, racial disparities in sentencing and, importantly, recidivism.

“There are also serious questions about whether they will ever see the light of day, given that Congress seems hopelessly mired in partisan politics. The bills’ provisions include the following:

  • reducing some mandatory minimum sentences for low level, non-violent drug offenders;* reducing the mandatory life without parole for a third drug or violent felony to 25 years:
  • reducing the mandatory minimum 20 years for a second drug of violent felony to 15 years;
  • closing the crack-powder cocaine disparity and making it retroactive;
  • providing judges with more discretion in sentencing selected low-level drug cases:
  • reducing the 15- and 25- year mandatory minimum sentences for certain gun crimes to 10 years and 15 years
  • reducing the federal three-strikes law from life to 25 years;
  • reducing time served for inmates who participate in prison programs; and creating some new  mandatory minimum sentences


“In short, federal criminal justice policy has been, and seemingly will continue to be, drastically out of balance, focusing nearly exclusively on punishment. Unfortunately, punishment does not change the underlying reasons many offenders are involved in crime, and that is the primary reason we have out-of-control recidivism and a failed criminal justice system.”


6 Misconceptions Underlying Opposition to Sentencing Reform
Is reducing prison terms reckless in light of drug and crime trends?
Jacob Sullum,, Oct. 13, 2015



Check out this short video from the Charles Koch Institute on sentencing:

Mens Rea in 60 Seconds

Who knows what the extremely dysfunctional Congress will do. We hope that they will at least start to make some rational changes. In Hawai`i we have a REAL OPPORTUNITY to make serious reforms to our unjust and broken criminal justice system. That is why YOUR VOICE MATTERS. Please raise it up for justice in 2016. We cannot continue on this unsustainable course of lazy justice. Simply locking up people doesn’t solve anything…working to rehabilitate and help people understand their own behavior is what works with humans.





Today’s post is all about Innocence. Wrongful convictions challenge the integrity of the justice system and public’s confidence that justice can and will be served equally.  Hawai`i is still one of the states that has no compensation for those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, even though we have laws mandating compensation for crime victims. What is the message that this sends? We hold lawbreakers accountable for the harm they have caused; but the state is not liable for the harms they cause?  Is this justice???

We start off with an article about prosecutor who admits that he was an arrogant coward in convicting an innocent man. If we want real justice, we need to hold prosecutors accountable as well.


30 Years on Death Row
In an incredible miscarriage of justice, a prosecutor admits his cowardice and indifference led to the wrongful murder conviction of a man sentenced to death
60 Minutes, Oct. 11, 2015, Bill Whitaker is the correspondent. Ira Rosen and Habiba Nosheen, producers.

I was arrogant, narcissistic, caught up in the culture of winning.
 – Marty Stroud – Louisiana Prosecutor who Sent Glenn Ford to Death Row

It is so rare for a prosecutor to actually admit the “culture” of prosecution. This article also quotes a  prosecutor from Caddo Parish, Louisiana saying that he doesn’t know why Mr.Stroud is apologizing because justice was served (because he was released after 30 years). How do we deal with that kind of arrogance and injustice that seems to be the culture prosecutors live in???


A Death Sentence in Mississippi: Do Prosecutors Care More About a Conviction Than Executing the Right Person?
Spencer Woodman, Oct. 5, 2015,


Freeing the Innocent: DNA Testing’s First 25 Years
Daniel S. Medwed, Oct. 1, 2015, The Crime Report

“DNA testing has altered criminal justice. But what have we learned from the more than 300 documented DNA exonerations between 1989 and 2014? And what do we still need to know?

“These questions were at the heart of a conference last week at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston that attracted the nation’s leading scholars and advocates in the field, including Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project; Brandon Garrett of the University of Virginia; Richard Leo of the University of San Francisco; Alexandra Natapoff of Loyola Law School-Los Angeles; and Dan Simon of the University of Southern California.


“Deconstructing a quarter-century of DNA exonerations has given us a deep understanding about what went wrong originally in those cases. Those factors are now well-known: eyewitness misidentifications, false confessions, faulty forensic evidence, ineffective assistance of defense counsel, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and the use of jailhouse informants.

“These factors seldom appear alone in a wrongful conviction. More often than not, multiple errors surface in a single case.”


An Exoneree’s Story: ‘They Never Envisioned Making a Mistake’
Graham Kates, Oct. 5, 2015, The Crime Report

“Seventeen years after Rodney Roberts was first incarcerated for a kidnapping and rape he did not commit, he was exonerated and freed on March 14, 2014.  Though sentenced to seven years incarceration, he was involuntarily committed for another 10 years by the State of New Jersey to a sex offender treatment facility, and the case he was convicted for remains unsolved.

“Roberts, now 47, is one of countless individuals who have been victimized by a criminal justice system that relies on plea deals struck between over-burdened public defenders and comparatively well-funded prosecutors. …”

In Honolulu, the prosecutors are housed in a fancy office building next to the state capitol. The public defenders are housed in an office in a strip mall above Sensually Yours miles from the capitol and courts in an office that looks like a bus station. (I was told that that is where they got the benches for their reception area.) To me, this is a pretty glaring example of “justice” in the land of aloha.

We still have plenty of work to do to improve the quality of justice in Hawai`i and elsewhere. Over-zealous prosecutors must be held accountable.



Solitary Confinement

Today’s post is all about solitary confinement and the debate taking place about the harms it causes.

This is a problem  for us in Hawai`i. Saguaro has built a special unit for solitary (protective custody, it’s called). It is easy for untrained guards to lock folks down. Not so good when folks with mental health issues decompensate while locked down. We can change things by SPEAKING OUT for human rights and dignity.


California’s Secret Solitary Courts
Sarah Shourd, The Daily Beast, Oct. 6, 2015

Despite a new settlement that bans indefinite solitary confinement in California, prisons are finding new secondary excuses to lengthen time in the SHU.

“A change in policy in California just last month could result in an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 prisoners being released from solitary confinement into the general prison population.

“Seventy-eight of these prisoners have been isolated for more than 20 years. Like being confined to a small fish bowl in the dark corner of an attic—these prisoners will suddenly be thrust into a much larger aquarium, teeming with life.


“’Let’s say a Correctional Officer (C.O.) decides a guy is a real pain in the ass,’ says Carbone. ‘Maybe he has institutional notoriety, maybe he’s been filing too many complaints, or the C.O.s just don’t like him. They can take an ordinary rule violation, transmute it into gang activity, and make sure said prisoner stays off the mainline for a long time.'”


Like Being “Buried Alive”: Charles Dickens on Solitary Confinement in America’s Prisons
Michael Stern, The American Prospect, Oct. 8, 2015


“In 1842 Dickens wrote a scathing critique of solitary confinement in America. Nearly two centuries later, little has changed.

“More than 170 years before Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy denounced the “human toll” of solitary confinement practices in U.S. prisons in his concurring opinion in Davis v. Ayala this June (see “Eight Principles for Reforming Solitary Confinement” in the Fall 2015 issue of theProspect), Charles Dickens had reached the same conclusion. The system of “rigid, strict, solitary confinement” is cruel and wrong,” he wrote in American Notes, his 1842 report on his travels in America that year.


“Dickens urged his American readers to abolish the Silent System: “Nothing wholesome or good has ever had its growth in such unnatural solitude, [and] even a dog … would pine and mope and rust away beneath its influence.” But his common sense and common decency have not prevailed. Eastern ended its solitary confinement practices in 1913 and was closed in 1970. But the soul-destroying methods of isolation and deprivation it pioneered have become mainstream once again in America’s prisons. It’s finally time to abolish them.”


Eight Principles for Reforming Solitary Confinement
How we can reduce, make more humane, and ultimately eliminate a practice that, in Justice Kennedy’s words, drives prisoners “to the edge of madness”
Margo Schlanger & Amy Fettig, The American Prospect Long Form, Fall 2015


“Solitary is not now, if it ever was, reserved for the “worst of the worst.”

“Prisoners are in solitary for talking back to officers, posting on a Facebook page, or possessing too many stamps.

“After a half-century of steep increases in imprisonment, a bipartisan consensus is finally emerging that the United States keeps too many people locked up. The current incarceration rate is four times what it was in this country in 1970 and five to ten times higher than rates today in Western Europe and other developed democracies. The cost to the American public is enormous—over $85 billion a year. In this one area, the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist agree with a broad swath of religious leaders, civil rights and civil liberties advocates, and liberal politicians. All criticize our current criminal justice policies as inhumane, ineffective, and unduly costly.


  1. Prisoners should never be subject to long-term solitary confinement when it is not truly necessary for safety and security.
  2. Solitary confinement should be used for the least time possible.
  3. Prisoners who are particularly vulnerable to serious medical and mental-health injury should not be confined in solitary confinement for more than an emergency period.
  4. Out-of-cell time is critical.
  5. Solitary confinement should not include sensory deprivation or complete social isolation.
  6. When prisoners are placed in solitary confinement, they should be closely monitored by correctional and health staff.
  7. Prisoners should be given realistic incentives and support to follow facility rules.
  8. Empower independent oversight.”


What Can Reforming Solitary Confinement Teach Us About Reducing Mass Incarceration?
It’s not about non-violent offenders. And it won’t be cheap.
Taylor Pendergrass, The Marshall Project, Oct. 13, 2015


“The “justice reinvestment” principle — ensuring that savings from reducing mass incarceration are reallocated back into the system in order to improve safety — is equally applicable when it comes to reducing solitary confinement.

“Although it would have been hard to believe even several years ago, reform of solitary confinement is starting to look inevitable. For decades, a small movement of the incarcerated and their families, advocates, medical and mental health professionals, and forward-thinking corrections leaders labored against solitary confinement with only rare, incremental, and quiet success. Compare that to the last few years: two of the largest prison systems in the country (California and New York) announced major solitary reforms, solitary confinement was front and center at three U.S. Senate hearings, 15 states considered reform legislation last year, Justice Anthony Kennedy all but invited a constitutional challenge to the practice, President Obama advocated reform, and the national organization of corrections executives called solitary a ‘grave problem.'”



Meet the Federal Prisoners About to be Released – 141 from Hawai`i

Below is an article showing that 141 of the 6,000 federally incarcerated people to be released are from Hawai`i.

Don’t know who they are yet, but all have served time for drugs.

Let’s hope that the state will follow the lead of the US Sentencing Commission and start releasing folks who post little to no risk to public safety, rather than continuing to grow the criminal underclass.

Meet the Federal Prisoners About to be Released
A profile of the 6,000.
The Marshall Project, Oct. 9, 2015


CAP Presentation at Public Health Conference

From Kat:

I hope this finds you well and happy this Monday, Indigenous People Day!

Last Friday, I was part of a panel at the Public Health Association Conference. I was researching for three weeks to prepare a presentation.  Our panel at the conference was interesting as it focused on incarceration, immigration, homelessness, something called “epigenetics”, Hawaiian culture, and domestic violence. Below is my research presentation.

Addressing Health DIsparities within a Health-in-All-Framwork_A Panel Discussion

Grace Lee Boggs

Grace Lee Boggs died last Sunday. She was/is an inspiration to everyone who believes  we can create a better world. There is a film, AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY – The evimgres-1olution of Grace Lee Boggs, that was shown at last year’s film festival.  The film followed her as she walked through a desolate section of Detroit and said, “I feel sorry for people who don’t live in Detroit!” She spoke about the rebirth of Detroit. She walked a little further to  a section with burned out factories and she turned to the camera and said, “This is how giants fall!” Here optimism in the face of adversity has been an inspiration to me.

Here is a beautiful tribute from yes! magazine followed by a Postcript from the New Yorker. This was an extraordinary woman, similar to our own Ah Quan McElrath. We are all fortunate that these teachers have forged the path for us.

Remembering Grace Lee Boggs and the Revolution She Inspired in Us
YES! has put together a tribute page to honor Grace Lee Boggs and the lives she touched while she was with us. Share your own thoughts with #RememberingGrace.
YES!Staff, YES! Magazine, Oct. 8, 2015

Editor’s note: We at YES! were saddened to learn that our dear friend and long-time collaborator Grace Lee Boggs passed away on Monday. Here, we offer some remembrances, both from our staff as well as from others who knew and loved her. We invite you share your own thoughts in the comment section below, or on social media with #RememberingGrace.


Postscript: Grace Lee Boggs
Thomas J. Sugrue, The New Yorker, Oct. 8, 2015

“For most of her remarkable one hundred years, Grace Lee Boggs saw herself as a revolutionary, and her adopted home town of Detroit as the Midwestern front of that revolution. Despite the frustrations of living in a counterrevolutionary time, and in a city that suffered a lot of setbacks and precious few victories, she never lost her optimism about the possibility of change, even as she began to drop the “r” from revolution.”


Grace Lee Boggs, Human Rights Advocate for 7 Decades, Dies at 100
Robert D. McFadden, The New York Times, Oct. 5, 2015


A Cautionary Tale For Hawai`i Nei…

Today’s post is a single story that serves as a cautionary tale for Hawai`i’s short-sighted prison building plan….

Millions of dollars wasted on nearly empty prisons built twice as large as planned, watchdog say
Lisa Rein, Washington Post, Oct. 1, 2015

“Two brand new tribal jails built by the Navajo Nation in Arizona and paid for by the federal government are sitting almost empty because they’re more than twice as large as planned — and now there’s not enough money to run them.”

This brings to mind the quote from Field of Dreams…If you build it, they will come. The real question is:  Why is Hawai`i so intent on building a criminal underclass when we have alternatives at hand to reduce the population????