Officials decry dearth of youth justice services

WAILUKU – Those who work in the juvenile criminal justice system say that there’s a need for more youth services, including a safe house on Maui for girls, who constitute an increasing percentage of admissions to the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility on Oahu.

“We would love a safe house for the girls on Maui,” said Maui County Deputy Prosecutor Brandon Paredes, who is assigned to Family Court. “We’re taking them off their land and sending them to the Big Island or Oahu.”

About 30 people – including juvenile probation officers, state Judiciary employees and social service agency representatives – attended a meeting Friday at the Cameron Center to discuss juvenile justice issues and to provide a Maui County perspective to the state Juvenile Justice Working Group. The group, composed of 20 policymakers, public safety professionals and others, was created in August and will submit policy recommendations Dec. 11 to Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

The group is charged with identifying ways to reduce crime and recidivism in the juvenile justice system and increase the effectiveness of spending.

According to the state, it costs $199,320 a year to house a youth at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility on Oahu.

“That’s more than a four-year college education,” state Senate President Donna Kim said during a news conference in August announcing the creation of the working group. “We really need to question that amount of money that we are spending.”

Statistics also show that three-fourths of those housed at HYCF are re-adjudicated or re-convicted within three years of their release. Admissions and the average daily population at the facility have decreased since 2009, data show.

In 2013, 41 percent of admissions were for violations of probation and 61 percent of those admitted for new offenses were for misdemeanors. The length of stay at the facility has increased to 7.2 months in 2013, up from 5.2 months in 2005.

While girls made up 18 percent of admissions to HYCF in 2005, the percentage increased to 26 percent in 2013.

From 2005 to 2013, trends show a stable number of youth admissions to probation, with an increased proportion – 55 percent in 2013 – of the admissions for misdemeanor offenses. Youths are spending more time on probation, according to data, with the length rising from an average of 8.1 months in 2005 to 20.6 months in 2013. On Maui, the average length of probation increased to 21.5 months in 2013.

At the meeting Friday, some participants said they were concerned about sending girls who come into contact with the system for low-risk behavior to HYCF, saying less-restrictive alternatives would be better but are limited on Maui.

“We need to have multiple options in our community because one size is not going to fit all,” said Debbie Cabebe, chief programs officer for Maui Economic Opportunity. “There’s so many kids to serve. You’ve got to have different options.

“The biggest problem is there’s not enough money. There’s a lot of people out there that want to do the work, and there’s not enough money to fund the programs and make them effective.”

Susun White, executive director of the Paia Youth & Cultural Center, said there are fewer programs now because funding has been eliminated.

Rick Rutiz, executive director of Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike, said his program involves Hana youth in building projects so they can see success.

“We’re trying to get them before they figure out the easiest thing to do is to jack a car and rob a liquor store,” he said. “I would love to see more in the prevention area.”

Brian McCafferty of Teens on Call said his program also uses hands-on projects for students. Like the Hana program, Teens on Call is “very effective to engage students so they feel a part of the community.”

“When they feel valued, they don’t want to make trouble and go to court,” he said. “It’s up to us so they’re not on a treadmill going in and out of Family Court.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at