The facts about Conditional Release in Hawaii

A couple of recent Star Advertiser pieces were quite critical of the Conditional Release system in Hawaii. They highlighted a recent CR case that was exceptionally tragic, and also highlighted another tragic event pursuant to someone released from the Hawaii State Hospital after a finding of unrestorability and a period of civil commitment. Unfortunately the stories perpetuated myths and misunderstandings about the forensic population in Hawaii. I’d like to present some information that the stories did not reference. 

Before I go further, I understand the stories were meant to cast a critical eye. I get that, and I believe the state has much room for improvement in the handling of these types of cases. And yes, these events were terrible, terrible things to have happened and many people are working extremely hard to make sure nothing like this happens again. But these events are extremely rare. I simply believe that in focusing on those two anomalies, readers were left believing that most mentally ill people are dangerous, including most people on CR. I’d like to provide some facts that may challenge those beliefs.

 Here are the straight facts about our CR system in Hawaii:

• A third of people on CR are on CR for misdemeanor charges.

• More than half are on for non-violent charges.

• Sentinel events for CRs have not gone up over the past 4 years.

• Rehospitalization rates of CRs (12%) have not gone up over the past four years.

• Arrest rates of CRs (11%) have not gone up over the past 4 years.

• Of those CRs who are rearrested, 87% are arrested for misdemeanor offenses.

• Of those CRs who are rearrested, fewer than .5% (one-half of one percent) are arrested for a serious felony. (That rate is lower than the rate for the general US population.)

• More than 90% of people on CR in Hawaii spend more time on CR than they would have served for the maximum jail or probation sentence for the same charge – sometimes up to twenty times as long.

Some other quick facts:

• Mentally ill people are not more dangerous than non-mentally ill people; the rates are statistically indistinguishable.

• Schizophrenia, among other diagnoses, statistically lowers a person’s risk for violence.

• Most people with mental illness are not violent (1-2%, same as the general population).

• Despite this, as compared to the regular US population, persons with mental illness are arrested 5 times more often, given more serious charges for the same incidents, spend 7 time longer in jail for pre-trial detention, receive harsher sentences for the same charges, and cost taxpayers 10 times more for the prosecution of their cases.

 In light of these facts, you can see why I believe the stories were so misleading.  I think a second part needs to be written that looks  at the injustices on the other side of the CR coin (for example, indefinite commitments for minor charges — including petty misdemeanors), so that fuller picture of the CR system in Hawaii can be presented. To his credit, the reporter has agreed to discuss a follow-up story that would highlight these types of issues as well.

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