Hawaiʻi Bail Study Finds Justice Is What You Can Afford

Jan 31, 2018

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Statewide, almost half of the detainees in our jails are accused but not convicted, many because they cannot afford bail. That’s according to a new study released today by the Hawaiʻi American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU report paints a picture of a justice system where the wealthy go free, while the working poor sit in jail. Not everyone sees it that way. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has more.

A new report released today by Hawaiʻi’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that Hawaiʻi’s bail practices have led to a large number of people detained in jail for relatively long periods of time often because they can’t afford bail. Mateo Caballero is the organization’s legal director.

“About 50 percent of people detained in jail in Hawai’i are there pre-trial, meaning people who haven’t been found guilty of anything,” says Caballero, “So that amounts to 1,100 people detained pre-trial. We don’t need to have 1,100 people incarcerated or detained just because they cannot afford bail.”

With average bail for the lowest felony totaling more than $11,000, those who cannot afford it remain in jail until trial – which Caballero says can take up to 10 weeks in Honolulu.

“The consequences of not being able to afford bail are devastating – loss of housing, loss of jobs. These are things can actually lead to increase in crimes,” says Caballero.

The preliminary report analyzed more than 2,000 cases in the first six months of 2017. The data suggests part of the problem is a heavy dependence on money or bond as a condition for pre-trial release – accounting for 88 percent of the cases in the study.

“No person should be held in jail simply for lack of funds. We all believe that,” says James Lindblad. He has been a bail agent for more than 40 years.

“But there’s nothing about the bail system in Hawaiʻi that’s going to help prison population management,” says Lindblad.

“Look, people are not in jail because they are poor. People are in jail because they have broken the law,” says Beth Chapman.

Chapman has been in the bail bond business for more than 20 years along with her husband Duane “Dog” Chapman.

“And it endangers the public for us to just say oh the guy is poor we let him out,” says Chapman, “Of course he’s poor. Cause if he wasn’t poor would he have robbed you? Would we have stole your car if he could afford his own?”

The study also concluded the system has a presumption of guilt in determining whether to release or detain the accused. Caballero says bail amounts are set based on the crime alleged and prior arrests are taken into account rather than prior convictions.

“The way it should work is that everyone is presumed innocent and everyone should be presumed that they are going to show up in court that they do not pose a risk to the community,” says Caballero, “And it is up to the prosecution, to the state to show that that is the case.”

Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth admits there are improvements to be made to the justice system, but that Hawaiʻi’s pre-trial detention numbers are lower than most other states.

“Most of those people are there because they’ve committed a crime. It’s a lot more difficult to be held in custody than one might think,” says Roth.

Roth sits on a statewide task force engaged in an in-depth review of criminal pretrial practices.

“We have to get a better understanding of who these people are,” says Roth, “So they’re has to be some kind of system that we look at to determine who has to be in jail and who doesn’t have to be in jail.”

The ACLU report is the just the first snapshot of the complex world of pre-trial incarceration.